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Mr. Kaufman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills when she intends to reply to the letter from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton dated 10 December with regard to Ms J Wallwork. [27287]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills replied to my right hon. Friend's letter of 10 December today, 14 January 2002.

Pre-school Organisations

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many initiatives requiring action by pre-school organisations have been initiated by the Government in 2001. [23401]

Margaret Hodge: In addition to existing programmes, a total of five new programmes were launched by Government in 2001, providing enhanced opportunities for pre-school organisations and focused on increasing funding for the early years and child care sector and raising quality and standards for parents and children. A list is provided for information.

The expansion and development of existing early years programmes such as the universal nursery provision for all three and four-year-olds, has also provided a welcome boost to the sector.

Also introduced in September 2001 were the National Standards for Under 8s Day Care and Childminding, and the transfer of Regulation of Day Care to Ofsted.

Initiatives launched 2001:

1. The Local Network Fund:

This was launched in May 2001 to enable local voluntary and community groups to provide local solutions to child poverty. The fund provides grants up to £7,000 for work with children and young people aged 0–19. Projects run by voluntary organisations for pre-school children are already benefiting from the fund.

2. Universal Nursery Provision for three and four year olds:

Funding of £200 million has been made available in 2001–02 to provide up to 170,000 free part-time early education places for three-year-olds. The majority of these new free places are expected to be in the private, voluntary and independent sectors including pre-schools. To obtain this funding pre-schools must apply to their local education authority.

3. Day Care Expansion programme:

Supported with £4 million of ESF was introduced in March 2001. The grant is aimed at encouraging and assisting providers in all sectors to make the move to provision of longer care, ideally full day care but certainly not less than four hours. Application for funding would be through EYDCPs.

4. Playgroups provide day care/wraparound:

An initiative was introduced to aid the conversion, by 2004, of at least 21,000 playgroups places to move to day care/wraparound care provision. The aim of this initiative is to enable playgroup places to be converted from sessional provision to day care, or wraparound care, combining early years education and care. This assists

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parents by allowing them sufficient time to take up employment, training or educational opportunities. Capital funding of £6 million is being made available from 2002–03 to aid this conversion programme. This initiative contributes to the Government's strategic aim of creating 1.6 million new child care places by March 2004.

5. Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiative (NNI):

This is part of the Government's wider Neighbourhood Childcare strategy. The NNI aims to create new child care places in day nurseries, in the most disadvantaged areas of the country. It aims to help reduce child poverty by helping parents take up work and training that will help them into work. It should also improve the life chances of children through access to quality care, early education and support.

National Standards for Under 8s Day Care and Childminding, and the transfer of Regulation of Day Care to Ofsted:

Regulation under OFSTED provides for a single, national policy on the regulation of day care providers and child minders, which will help to ensure consistency of policy and procedures across the whole of England.

Faith-based Schools

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many letters of (a) support and (b) opposition she has had to the Government's proposal for faith-based schools. [27023]

Mr. Timms: The Departmental team dealing with faith schools has received 340 letters since publication of the Government's proposals in the White Paper. Of those, (a) five supported an increase in faith schools and (b) 335 were opposed. In the main, the letters of opposition were objecting to faith schools in principle.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what response she has had from (a) the Church of England, (b) the Roman Catholic Church, (c) the non-conformist churches, (d) the Muslim community, (e) the Hindu community and (f) other faiths to the Government's proposal for faith-based schools. [27022]

Mr. Timms: The Government's proposal for faith-based schools was part of the White Paper, "Schools: achieving success", on which the churches and faith groups were consulted. Ministers and officials continue to hold meetings with them to listen to views on the implementation of the White Paper proposals and related matters.

A copy of the Interim Report on the White Paper consultation has been placed in the Library and the full report will be published in due course.

Rural Schools

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many (a) primary and (b) secondary schools there were in rural areas, broken down by (i) constituency and (ii) local education authority in each year since 1990. [24897]

Mr. Timms: At this level of detail the information requested is not readily available and can be provided only at disproportionate cost.

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Information from the Register of Educational Establishments shows that at present there are an estimated 2,727 maintained primary schools (15.2 per cent. of all primary schools) and an estimated 78 maintained secondary schools (2.3 per cent. of all secondary schools) classified as being either wholly or predominantly rural.

School Lunches

Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will list the price of (a) primary and (b) secondary school lunches by local authority in descending order. [24971]

Mr. Timms: Information on the price of school lunches is not collected centrally.

Learning and Skills Council

Mr. Damian Green: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what guidance she has given the Learning and Skills Council about provisions for the over 60s; and if she will make a statement. [25516]

Margaret Hodge: The Government are committed to creating a learning society in which everyone, of every age and in all circumstances enjoys learning throughout life. Research shows that learning has many benefits for older people in particular, including increased self- confidence, self-esteem and better health and well being, all helping to contribute to an independent and fulfilling lifestyle. We want to encourage more older people to take advantage of the benefits of learning, particularly older people who have not previously engaged in learning or who have been "hard to reach". So we are working to raise awareness of the value of later life learning via our Learning in Later Life Campaign; encouraging practitioners to share good practice; working with libraries, museums and galleries to help unlock their potential as places of learning; and undertaking research into the learning needs of older people.

Accordingly, in his remit letter to the Learning and Skills Council in November 2000, the then Secretary of State emphasised that learning can help to strengthen families; build stronger neighbourhoods; help older people to stay healthy and active, and encourage independence for all by opening up new opportunities. He also highlighted that many adults, including large numbers of older and retired learners, would want to pursue high quality and rigorous study for its own sake, and that he expected provision to be made available to meet their needs. To support this, we have increased funding for adult and community learning—provision which many older people access—to £165 million in 2002–03.

Higher Education

Mr. Damian Green: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many officials of her Department work on higher education policy. [25517]

Margaret Hodge: The higher education group in the Department comprises some 190 full-time equivalent officials, although staff elsewhere in the Department also contribute to higher education policy.

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Social Exclusion

Vernon Coaker: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what recent meetings she has held in order to co-ordinate policy on the implementation of the social exclusion unit's report on young people. [23460]

Mr. Denham [holding answer 9 January 2002]: The principles and recommendations of the report from the social exclusion unit's policy action team (12) on young people continue to form the agenda of the children and young people's unit and the great majority of my meetings in my role as Minister responsible for young people are concerned with work taking forward its recommendations.

Two recent initiatives are of particular importance: the publication of the Core Principles for the Involvement of Children and Young People, launched on 2 November, and the consultation on the Government's proposed Strategy for Children and Young People, which began on 21 November. The core principles provide a framework that Government Departments have agreed to work to in order to increase the effective involvement of children and young people in the design and provision of policies and services. The strategy sets out a framework for measuring and monitoring real-life outcomes in children and young people's lives—the consultation will help shape priorities for spending over £40 billion each year on services for children and young people. I have, of course, met Ministers with an interest in children and young people's issues to discuss and agree both documents which are key elements in the implementation of the report's recommendations.

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