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We shall combine the above measures with encouraging undergraduates on other courses to sample and enjoy teaching, including taking up paid work as teaching assistants, should the semester and the school term coincide sufficiently well.
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): Will the Secretary of State realise that much of what he has been doing recently has done nothing for the specialisation of schools in the countryside? I have a letter signed by the right hon. Gentleman, dated just over two weeks ago, in which he praises the additional £52 million for the SAS--[Interruption]--I mean the SSA for the counties. Devon, which is one of the largest counties in the country, gets less than £100,000 out of that £52 million, with £150,000 going to the whole of the west country. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the extra money for the neighbourhood renewal fund being brilliant for Devon. Plymouth--a Labour area--gets £1 million, but there is nothing for Devon and the countryside. This is the Labour party looking after its own, not the countryside.
I do not want to be ungenerous to the right hon. Gentleman, but in fact Plymouth is not under Labour control, regrettably. We lost it at the last local elections. [Interruption.] I heard the right hon. Gentleman say Plymouth; I am terribly sorry if I misheard him. [Hon. Members: "He did say Plymouth."]
Let me put the record straight. This was additional money, on top of the revenue support grant, the standards fund, the building programmes that have been allocated and the nursery education provision for that county and others. The money was provided from Department for Education and Employment resources that we identified, based on the distribution and top-slicing of adult education money and the ability of authorities to reach and deliver their standards agenda.
I am terribly sorry that I could not do more than I did a fortnight ago, but I will continue to do my best to ensure that the schools in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency receive the special grant that they never had when his party were in office.
Gillian Merron (Lincoln): May I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement for its response to the fact that vocational and technical education has been downgraded for too long? As a result, engineering careers, for example, have been difficult to promote positively to young people. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that vocational GCSEs and work-related learning opportunities will become a central part of the education system? Along with closer links between schools and industry, that will ensure that places such as Lincoln receive the bright and talented people whom we need to work in engineering.
Mr. Blunkett: I certainly can. That is why the specialist school programme is being expanded to science, engineering and business and enterprise. I pay tribute to the contribution that business and commerce have made both in kind and in support for and direct links with schools. It was disgraceful that the shadow Secretary of State was so disparaging about the efforts made. What a funny twist that was, and what a changed world we live in. I assure my hon. Friend that the work will continue and that the 14-plus programme, helped by the change in the law that we brought about in 1998, will facilitate it.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Most of the Secretary of State's statement applies, of course, to England alone, but one area--the relief of repayment of student loans for teachers--has considerable scope for cross-border confusion. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the position of those in teacher training colleges in Wales who then teach in England, and of those from teacher training colleges in England who go to teach in Wales? Has some understanding been reached with the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in Cardiff, Jane Davidson; and can the Secretary of State clarify the situation?
Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I am happy to do so. The cost will be met from central funds, not by the Welsh Assembly, and that will facilitate decision making for the young people to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Does the Secretary of State recognise that many parents in inner urban areas are strongly committed to the principle of universal comprehensive education? Many inner London boroughs have a serious problem because the remaining grammar schools and selective schools in outer London
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): In reflecting on his four years, the Secretary of State will have noted the answer given to the House a few weeks ago by the Minister for School Standards on allocations to local authorities. Can he tell us why Sheffield and Derby receive £2,500 for a primary pupil, but the county of Derbyshire receives only £2,300? Do the allocations have anything to do with who the Cabinet Ministers are?
Mr. Blunkett: If that did have anything to do with Cabinet Ministers, it would relate to the previous Government's Cabinet, not the present Government's. The system used for distribution of revenue support grant is the system that we inherited. We have done our best to ensure, through the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, that the system is put right. Direct funding to schools, the standards fund, the new funds for nursery provision and the funds allocated for building programmes make matters not worse, but better. Had we put those resources directly into the SSAs, Derbyshire's relative position would have been a great deal worse.
Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): What assessment has been made of the excellence in cities project and of its effect on increasing standards? Will he confirm that the education SSA system will be reviewed and changed next year?
Mr. Blunkett: On my hon. Friend's second question, which picks up on the one put by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), our Green Paper was issued last year and we have been holding consultations on it. By the summer, we shall be making decisions on a revised system of SSA distribution.
There has been a dramatic improvement in schools in excellence in cities areas; the youth cohort study showed improvements of 10 per cent. for youngsters from black and Asian households and of 7 per cent. for those from white, working-class households, as compared with the rest of the country.
Mr. Blunkett: I inherited a difficult problem: the inability of parents to get a place for their children at the schools closest to where they live. Sometimes that was because of selection; sometimes it was because of inherited admissions decisions. That is why we introduced a revised code, and set up independent tribunals so that parents could appeal to an external arbiter. That is why we expanded schools--especially in the infant and primary range--to ensure that more parents obtained their choice. Improving the quality of education is the only answer, if we are not to squeeze out those who do not know the ropes, who do not have a loud enough voice or who have not been able to use the admissions system to get their children into the school of their choice.