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University Research

17. Mr. Khabra: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what plans the Government have to fund high-quality research in university institutions. [31417]

Margaret Hodge: The Government will continue to support high quality research in universities and colleges. The detailed distribution of public funds for research is a matter for the Research Councils, the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the other UK funding councils. The Department has made available an additional £30 million to fund high quality research next year.

Public Examinations

18. Mr. Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will make a statement on the operation of the public examination system. [31418]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: The Government are determined to maintain a rigorous and high-quality examination system that commands public confidence. We look to the regulatory body—the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority—to ensure that all awarding bodies meet the high standards that students and parents expect.

Ofsted Report (Gloucestershire)

19. Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will make a statement on the recent Ofsted report into Gloucestershire's local education authority. [31419]

Mr. Timms: Officials in my Department have discussed the report with the Council's lead members and officers. I am assured that the authority recognises the weaknesses identified by Ofsted, and will be addressing the recommendations in the year ahead. I await the authority's post-Ofsted action plan, which will set out the action proposed.

Schools (Derbyshire)

20. Mr. Barnes: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what recent representations she has received on the future of Dronfield and Diencourt schools in Derbyshire. [31420]

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Mr. Timms: My Department has received an application from Derbyshire local education authority (LEA) to the targeted capital fund (TCF) for capital funding in respect of Dronfield School. TCF supports standards-focused projects which might not otherwise be supported through other capital programmes. TCF applications are currently being appraised and allocations will be announced in March 2002.

Post-16 Education

22. Mr. Tynan: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what guidance she has given to learning and skills councils on the financial support of post-16 education in schools. [31422]

Margaret Hodge: The Learning and Skills Council is required to disburse £1.35 billion for school sixth form provision in 2002–03. The Secretary of State's Grant Letter to the Learning and Skills Council for 2002–03 said that she expected the Council to secure a smooth transfer to the new funding arrangements for school sixth forms, and that it must ensure that the funding does not reduce in real terms relative to the amount they received in 2000–01, provided pupil numbers are maintained.

Reception Classes

24. Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the proportion of four-year-olds in reception classes was in (a) 1997 and (b) 2000; and if she will make a statement. [31424]

Margaret Hodge: The information is not available in the form requested.

The percentage of four-year-olds educated in classes that are not designated as nursery 1 in maintained primary schools in England was 53 per cent. and 57 per cent. in January 1997 and January 2000, respectively. Early Years Development and Childcare Plans demonstrate how, in every local education authority area, there is an early education place for every four-year-old whose parents want one in either the maintained, private or voluntary sector.

Latest figures on under fives provision in England were published in Statistical Bulletin "Provision for children under five years of age in England—January 2001", a copy of which is available from the Library or the Department's website

Specialist Schools

25. Mrs. Helen Clark: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will make a statement about the criteria she applies when considering a school's application for specialist status. [31425]

Mr. Timms: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave on 23 January 2002, Official Report, column 903W.

31. Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many specialist schools there are in Yeovil constituency. [31431]

Mr. Timms: There is one specialist school in Yeovil.

7 Feb 2002 : Column 1056W

Adult Education

26. Sue Doughty: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what proposals the Government have to introduce an entitlement for all adults to paid tuition for Level 2 courses. [31426]

Margaret Hodge: Within my Department, we are currently conducting a review of financial support for adult learners aged 19 or over outside higher education, alongside our work in the Spending Review. We are looking at targeting financial assistance where it is most needed, and at the most cost effective way of doing this. Entitlement for all adults to paid tuition for Level 2 is one option that is being carefully explored.

We are also developing pilot arrangements that will test how free tuition together with employer compensation for time taken off by employees for learning can act as an incentive. The focus of the learning in these pilots will be basic skills and an initial Level 2 qualification. A small number of pilots will be run by local Learning and Skills Councils in their areas. The pilots will start in spring 2002 with learning opportunities available from September 2002.

29. Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what strategy she has to increase participation in adult learning. [31429]

John Healey: The Government's strategy is to ensure that learning is available in a form and at a time and place that best suits the needs of adult learners; to provide targeted financial support to adult learners; and to extend the information, advice and guidance available on learning. The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has a statutory duty to encourage adults to learn. It will publish its strategy for work force development by the end of March 2002. The National Target for Participation in Learning has been achieved one year early, with 500,000 additional learners since 1997.

School Worship

27. Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will make a statement about acts of worship in schools. [31427]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: All registered pupils attending a maintained school should take part in a daily act of collective worship. This must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character, though importantly, not distinctive of any particular Christian denomination. Schools of a religious character provide collective worship according to the tenets of their trust deed. They are not obliged to follow the Department's guidance in Circular 1/94, although they may find it helpful to do so.

Collective worship provides an important opportunity to promote pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. We recognise its distinctive and unique contribution in teaching children about the beliefs and values underpinning our understanding of ourselves, what is right and wrong, our sense of belonging and respect for each other.

The Government have no current plans to remove the statutory requirement for a daily act of collective worship in schools as the law already allows much flexibility over the organisation, timing and content of worship.

7 Feb 2002 : Column 1057W

School Exclusions

28. Harry Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment she has made of the trends in the numbers of school exclusions over the next two years and the underlying reasons; and if she will make a statement. [31428]

Mr. Timms: Many factors will affect the number of school exclusions over the next two years. We are taking forward a number of initiatives in this area, including more on-site learning support units; more Learning Mentors; and more Personal Advisers under the Connexions Service for pupils aged 13–19.

During the period from 1996 to 2000 the overall number of permanent exclusions has fallen—from around 12,700 in the 1996–97 school year to around 8,300 in the 1999–2000 school year. However, in the last school year (2000–01) the number of permanent exclusions is estimated to have risen to around 9,200 (provisional figure), though this is still 28 per cent. below the 1996–97 peak. We recently issued for consultation draft revised guidance on the appropriate use of exclusion. While this proposes to expand the categories of behaviour where permanent exclusion may be justified, given all the measures we are taking to bolster schools and headteachers with more resources to help them avoid the need for exclusion, we do not expect the new guidance to result in any significant increase in the numbers of exclusions.

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