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Sure Start (Romsey)

7. Sandra Gidley (Romsey): If he will make a statement on sure start provision in the Romsey constituency. [157914]

The Minister for Public Health (Yvette Cooper): Currently there are no sure start programmes in the Romsey constituency, but 260 have been announced. Districts are chosen on the basis of levels of deprivation. The district of Southampton has two sure start programmes, although the catchment areas for both programmes are outside the Romsey constituency.

Sandra Gidley: It is true that Southampton was encouraged to make an application for sure start. The city council wanted to include the Flower estate, which is part of Bassett ward in my constituency, but unfortunately the estate forms only a third of a very large ward which is otherwise regarded as affluent. Will the Minister

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undertake to ensure that isolated pockets of deprivation, which all agencies agree need help, will be able to receive money in future, and that we do not rely solely on arbitrary ward boundaries?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Lady has raised an important issue about how best to target small areas of deprivation. So far 260 sure start programmes have been targeted in that way, but we are committed to introducing 500 by 2004. Many other areas will have programmes over the next few years.

We have made clear our intention to look at different models when we are developing the new programmes, and to focus on smaller pockets of deprivation that the current targeting method might not pick up. Every child living in poverty deserves the best possible start in life, wherever he or she lives.

New Deal for Young People

8. Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): What assessment he has made of the involvement of different sectors of the economy in the new deal for young people. [157915]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Ms Tessa Jowell): The new deal has helped to cut long-term unemployment among young people by nearly 80 per cent. over the past four years. It is now the lowest for a generation, and a strong and stable economy has enabled businesses to create well over 1 million new jobs

The intensified training provided by the new deal is designed according to the demands of employers. New dealers will increasingly move into sectors where skill shortages have been a problem for businesses seeking to grow. For example, we are working with leading information technology companies through Ambition IT, which will enable 5,000 more unemployed people to train as computer technicians. Ambition Retail, a consortium of major high street shops, allows the possibility of 50,000 more jobs, and further jobs to come. Transco is recruiting at least 15,000 new dealers to train as gas fitters over the next few years.

The new deal is providing solutions for industry and jobs with prospects for unemployed people.

Mr. Beard: I have seen an excellent example of the way in which the new deal is working for both 16 to 25-year-olds and those over 25 in Bexleyheath and Crayford, and I know of the number and variety of doors that have been opened. Thameside, in the London borough of Bexley, has some of the greatest potential for business development in London, and the Thames gateway partnership is aimed at attracting new employers to the area. Will the new national network of training organisations be able to provide for the skills that employers may require, so that local people may retrain and benefit from the new opportunities that will arise?

Ms Jowell: That is precisely the intention of the combined efforts of national training organisations, learning and skills councils and the new deal. I hope very much that those opportunities will be extended to my hon.

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Friend's constituents and to the employers whom he mentions, but they should be under no illusion: were the Tories to be elected, the new deal would be scrapped.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister could more accurately say that the new deal would be improved under the next Conservative Government. She knows that about a third of young people leaving the new deal go into jobs, and that half of them have lost those jobs within nine months. The record of the Wildcat Corporation in New York is 86 per cent. going into jobs, 94 per cent. of whom are still in them after 12 months. Now that the new deal taskforce has spent £175,000 taking advice from Wildcat, what has she learned about the reasons for the new deal failing to achieve the results that are achieved by Wildcat and that will be achieved by "Britain works" under the next Conservative Government?

Ms Jowell: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. We hear more invented figures with the purpose of discrediting the new deal, a programme that has halved long-term unemployment among young people and which the Conservatives are pledged to scrap. We are taking lessons from Wildcat because that is important in trying to develop more help for the most disadvantaged young people, especially the ambitious, sectorally focused, high skill programmes that I have already identified.

School Language Colleges

9. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): If he will make a statement on schools with attached specialist language colleges. [157916]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): In May 1997, there were 181 specialist schools and there are now 536, with an ambition to make that 650 by this September. Some 99 are language colleges.

Dr. Iddon: Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Little Lever school in my constituency, which achieved language college status and is already teaching five languages? The Japanese Government have funded a full-time teacher of Japanese and 15 Japanese women visited the school recently, dressed in national costume, and talked about their culture to the whole school. The teaching of Russian in the school has also prompted the art department to exchange its art work with a school in Russia. An international dimension has been spread across the whole curriculum of the school and out into the wider community.

Mr. Blunkett: I very much wish to congratulate the school. I have a list of the languages taught--French, German, Spanish, Urdu, Japanese, Russian, Italian and Cantonese, as well as starter courses in other languages. I only wish that I had been at the school when the Japanese visitors came, so that I could have enjoyed their costume and dancing. I congratulate the Japanese Government on their excellent initiative in funding the first year of the post and I hope that we can develop that with other embassies and countries.

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Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): What consideration has the Secretary of State given to making German rather than French the main foreign language taught in schools? One can spend four years at school learning French but find it very difficult to achieve an authentic accent, whereas after just 18 months of learning German even Germans can think one is a German, which is very satisfying. Teaching German also provides grammar, which has not been taught properly in schools since we stopped teaching Latin. Does he agree that die Zukunft ist Deutsch und nicht Franzosisch--the future is German, not French?

Mr. Blunkett: No, I do not.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): I enjoyed that exchange and the Secretary of State will know that I, too, take an interest in specialist and language colleges. Given that the criteria for specialist schools are now so broad that it is in practice possible to be a selective school in virtually anything except one or two important academic subjects, and given that the Prime Minister was reported to have told the Association of Teachers and Lecturers recently that--in contrast to the Secretary of State's Green Paper--there seemed to be no remaining limits on the number of specialist schools, I invite him to give an indication of the longest timetable for implementation of the specialist schools programme. Can he tell the House whether any comprehensive schools will be left as what the Prime Minister's spokesperson so characteristically, inelegantly and grossly unfairly described as bog standard?

Mr. Blunkett: I have comprehensively dealt with the last point on more than one occasion. The hon. Gentleman made a Freudian slip--I think that the record will show that he used the word "selective" when he meant "specialism". There is no limit on the number of specialisms or the number of specialist schools. They are comprehensive. Only 5 per cent. of specialist schools operating in 2000 retained some historic element of selection. Of the rest, less than 7 per cent. admitted children on the basis of aptitude.

Specialist schools are non-selective comprehensive schools. Professor Jesson's research showed that 53 per cent. of pupils in those comprehensive specialist schools obtained five or more A to C grades compared with 43 per cent. of pupils in similar intake comprehensive schools. That shows that the specialist school programme works in the interests of raising standards as well as outreach to the wider community.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): Does the Secretary of State agree that language learning should not be seen simply as a utilitarian exercise for those wishing to communicate with non-English speakers, but as something that can enrich a person's entire educational and cultural experience? In that context, does he support schemes such as Sheffield's multilingual city initiative, which seeks to spread language learning throughout the community? Sheffield nursery schools have very high rates of language learning which children then take with them throughout their lives.

Mr. Blunkett: The earlier a child can engage with other languages, the more successful that will be. I commend that and many other schemes that have developed, not only language tasters for nursery schools

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but those providing links with other parts of the world using information technology, including the multilingual programme that I have commended in the city of Sheffield. My only regret is that I learned a language called Esperanto at school. It was a very good idea at the time, but it got me into certain difficulties at the age of 16 when I used it in Paris.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Is it not the case that specialist schools under this Government are very different from those under the previous Government, in that they must ensure that a third of their budget is shared with the local community? In addition, the Government are promoting joint bids, so that two high schools can bid jointly for specialist status. Specialist schools are encouraged to share their resources with the community with after-school clubs and so on, so that instead of the winner-takes-all approach of the previous Government, our specialist vision is about sharing resources and improving diversity throughout our communities.

Mr. Blunkett: A number of joint bids have already been approved. I want to see many more, particularly in areas such as my hon. Friend's constituency, where there are two schools within one small community. I want the collaborative approach to the bidding process to be extended so that schools talk with other schools and the education authority about which would be most appropriate for a particular specialism, and they work it through with their primary school feeders and the other secondary schools in the area. I want to ensure that they then reach out to the community so that the specialism is available to all, including adult learners.

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