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A-level Results

7. Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): If she will make a statement on this year's A-level results. [6693]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The A-level results published on 16 August 2001 are provisional. A copy of those provisional results has been placed in the Library and final figures for this year's results will be published in November.

Mr. Bailey: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. My local authority of Sandwell saw a further improvement in A-level results this year, but I was concerned by some of the public comments about a dilution of standards. Will my hon. Friend confirm that no such dilution has taken place, and does he agree that such ill-informed comments are grossly demoralising and insulting to the thousands of hard-working pupils and teachers throughout the country?

Mr. Lewis: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. It is about time that we started to celebrate the achievements of our young people and pay tribute to the support of the teachers, governors and parents in our education institutions. A-level results this year demonstrated that pass rates for grades A to E were up by 0.7 per cent., and A to C pass rates increased by 1.1 per cent. on last year. Some of the comments made have been investigated objectively and found to be absolute nonsense. The basis of the suggestions that standards have been undermined are flawed. When our young people do well, we should be positive, support them and draw attention to their achievements, not talk them down and make them feel that they are in a no-win situation. The Government are proud of having raised standards in all areas of education, and we continue to subscribe to that commitment.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Will the Minister share his knowledge of the A-level results in non-selective and selective schools and compare that with the evidence of the National Federation for Educational Research report, published last week, which—taking social class and other factors into account—showed how well pupils in selective schools were doing at A-level? Will he welcome the fact that the Government's attempts to allow selective schools to be driven out of the system seem to have ground to a halt?

Mr. Lewis: The Government would expect children selected at 11 to perform well, but we want to pay tribute to the achievement of all children in all schools.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): I welcome and celebrate good A-level results, but will my hon. Friend comment on this country's continuing obsessive belief that A-levels and GCSEs are the only worthy qualifications for young people to have? We need to consider vocational qualifications, which would be more motivating for many young people, instead of the GCSEs and A-levels for which they get poor grades.

Mr. Lewis: I agree with my hon. Friend's comments. One of the Government's challenges is to create parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications. We start from a low base, but we will review the entire 14 to 19-year-old phase of education for that reason. We want to create an education system that is diverse and plays to the strengths and aspirations of every young person. For some young people, that will mean an

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exclusively academic route and for others it will mean a high status vocational route. For others, it will mean a mixture of the two. The key is an education system that is tailored to the needs of the individual young person. When we publish our proposals on 14 to 19-year-old education in January, we will begin to demonstrate what we mean by that vision.

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): My education authority of Poole has the lowest sixth form funding but excellent A-level results are achieved. In order to ensure the improvements that we all desire, will the Minister ensure that when the new funding arrangements start in April, the lowest funded authorities will be considered carefully and brought up to parity with other authorities?

Mr. Lewis: I am sympathetic to the point that the hon. Lady makes, but it is relevant to consider the baseline figure that her local authority chose to spend on those establishments. We have made it clear that the Government are committed to a real-terms guarantee on sixth form funding. When responsibility moves to the Learning and Skills Council, that commitment will be maintained. We are working on the baseline figures for 2000-01 for the start of those new funding arrangements.

Sixth Form Colleges

8. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): What plans she has to establish more sixth form colleges. [6694]

Sheffield has—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady should allow the Minister to answer the question first.

The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Margaret Hodge): That has saved my brilliant answer.

All young people need access to high-quality education and training in an environment where their needs for pastoral support can be met. Sixth form colleges, sixth form centres in general further education colleges, and school sixth forms provide that. Individual proposals for new sixth form colleges will be considered on their own merits and in the light of local circumstance.

Helen Jackson: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. [Laughter.] But, as I was going to explain, I believe that Sheffield is probably the most socially polarised city in the country. That is underpinned by the yawning gap in post-16 provision in the city.

The proposed sixth form campus for Hillsborough will be a state-of-the-art facility, providing top-class A-level provision, enhanced by engineering courses and top-level vocational courses. It will operate under Sheffield college, but work with the schools in the city. Will my hon. Friend ensure that it fulfils the high hopes and expectations of everyone in the north of Sheffield and Stocksbridge, Chapeltown and High Green, and that the yawning gap in provision starts to reduce?

Margaret Hodge: I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to give my original answer. Having put energy into preparing it, lots of my officials would be upset had I been unable to give it.

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I understand that there are on-going discussions between the stakeholders in Sheffield about how best to respond to the need that my hon. Friend has correctly identified, particularly in the north of the city. I hope that the decision will lead to a local agreement among the partners and I look forward to receiving proposals from the learning and skills council.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Is the Minister aware of the concern in many sixth forms and among head teachers about the future financing of those institutions following the introduction of the learning and skills council? Will she give a guarantee that the ring-fenced arrangements for financing school sixth forms will not be removed in the event of a small fall in the sixth form roll?

Margaret Hodge: I am aware of the concerns—change is always difficult. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that our promise to maintain real-terms funding for school sixth forms will be kept. I hope that all schools will get their initial allocations in December.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley): Does my hon. Friend agree that the important thing for post-16 education is quality, and that it is crucial that the resources for that sector are shared throughout it? Likewise, it is important that the level of parochialism governing who provides what is also reduced. If there were a fairer division of resources throughout our constituencies, our 16 to 18-year-olds who plan to go to university would get a better education.

Margaret Hodge: There is good quality across all providers of post-16 education in all local education authority areas and we wish to build on that. I hope that the reviews of that provision across the country will help stakeholders plan together to ensure that the needs of all individuals within communities are best met.

Teacher Shortages

9. Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): What assessment she has made of teaching staff shortages in (a) further and (b) higher education. [6695]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Margaret Hodge): Both further and higher education report recruitment difficulties arising from competition from other institutions and the wider economy. In further education, there are teaching staff shortages in information technology, engineering, science and construction. In higher education, the main shortage subjects are information and communication technology, business studies and engineering.

Mr. Allan: I hope that the Minister will agree that British students, including those from both north and south Sheffield, deserve the best possible opportunities to study information technology in further and higher education. On information technology, does she agree that the word "crisis" can be used accurately to describe the shortage of academic staff and, crucially, support staff, whom we simply cannot recruit? What measures will the Government take to increase recruitment and retention in the IT sector in further and higher education?

Margaret Hodge: There are difficulties, but I would not call it a crisis. We are taking steps to overcome those

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difficulties by working with schools and national training organisations, and by giving additional money to FE and HE to support development and pay for teachers in shortage subjects. All that should help over time, and should prove to be of benefit to all those learners who depend on skilled teachers.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr): Where staff vacancies are filled by temporary contract- holders, will my hon. Friend ensure that standards in FE are monitored closely by the Department so that the quality of teaching is maintained?

Margaret Hodge: Standards in FE are being monitored and the new inspection regime involving Ofsted and the adult learning inspectorate is closely examining the quality of teaching in the FE sector. The £300 million that we have set aside in our settlement for FE will support the improvement of standards and we will monitor that closely.

Mr. Speaker: Mr. Gregory Barker. [Interruption.]

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Does the Minister accept that, in respect of her comments on the crisis in education recruitment, the intolerable burden of bureaucracy and directives on teachers in the classroom is as much a factor as teachers' pay?

Margaret Hodge: I see that the hon. Gentleman has difficulty in recognising his name.

Mr. Barker rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister must now answer and the hon. Gentleman must listen.

Margaret Hodge: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wanted to tell me that he does know his name, but he certainly has some difficulty in recognising the question under debate. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) referred to particular shortages in particular subjects, which I acknowledged. We have taken steps to address those problems. To suggest that we are not addressing properly the work load of teachers, or that we are not looking to recruit a sufficient number of teachers to provide high quality-education, is just wrong.

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