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5.31 pm

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): Having listened to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband), I wonder whether there is an urban-rural divide on education and skills. When individual learning accounts crashed and disappeared, many people were disfranchised. My constituency covers much of rural Somerset. My constituents could not get to Taunton, where the providers were located. ILAs had provided money for transport, but when it was no longer provided many of my constituents lost their places and, through no fault of their own, could not continue their further education. That problem has not been rectified. People have to travel 40 miles to a place of further education, without proper rural infrastructure.

Mr. Levitt: I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman praise a Labour initiative and that he wants ILAs to return in improved form. What provision did the Conservative Government make for his constituents before ILAs were in place?

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: ILAs were a complete disaster—and they were got rid of because they were a disaster. If the hon. Gentleman had listened more carefully, he would have realised that his party disfranchised a major part of my constituency. I can

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assure you that people working in further education, especially FE colleges, are extremely cross about that. It is your fault.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The word "you" can be used only in respect of the Chair.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise, too, to the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt). I meant that the failure was due to his Government's inactivity.

People from rural areas being excluded from further education is not the only problem. In one part of my patch, there is only one college. A child who is excluded from that college has nowhere else to go. Children cannot get to another school, because there is no other school in the area. Somerset county council has tried to provide for excluded children, but because resources are tight—the position in rural areas has worsened over the past few years—no provision has been made for children who cannot be taught in mainstream schools.

One might say that few children from rural areas are affected, but 124 of the 1,200 pupils at West Somerset college have special needs, which gives us some idea of the scale of the problem. There is no easy way of excluding children. We are told that they can go to their nearest further education college, but in my constituency Bridgwater college is nearly 40 miles away, and the lack of funding means that it cannot attract teachers. For years, every school in my area has applied for teachers, but simply cannot get them. Rural people may have quality of life but they lack the ability to further a career if they are ambitious. Such people understandably go to urban areas, but that does not help the rural areas that I represent.

All the colleges in my area are applying for special status. Resources are so depleted that they feel that they must raise the £50,000 required to apply for that status. One has acquired it, two more are in the process of doing so, and the other three are starting to raise the money. Local businesses in west Somerset raised £65,000 in three weeks. People's concern about the quality of their children's education was such that they felt that they had no choice but to put their hand in their own pocket as the Government will not provide the money.

What will happen to the colleges in my area? There are three: Somerset college of arts and technology, Bridgwater college and Richard Huish college. They are now in competition owing to the lack of resources. SCAT in Taunton has decided that it cannot compete with Bridgwater college and has cut courses and numbers. Bridgwater college is doing well as it has a tie-up scheme with the University of Plymouth—complicated or what?

Surely we must keep education simple so that children know where they will be from start to finish. If they do not go on to university, they should be able to follow their chosen course of further education in their local area. However, they cannot do that in our area because of uncertainty about courses.

The lack of rural transport affects the competition between colleges. It is difficult for students to attend one of the best colleges because the bus service is so limited. Unless the service is subsidised by the college or the county council—neither can do so—pupils cannot attend all their courses, which is a major concern.

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I have a few other concerns to raise, although I realise that many Members want to speak. I have received many representations from teachers in my constituency about the gathering of postcodes and children's names for the school census. Until 1999, the census was based on unique pupil numbers. I do not disagree with the collection of information—it is right to find out where pupils are and to assess whether high mobility has an effect on their achievement—but why do the Government need to collect the names, addresses and postcodes of individual children? When I questioned that, I was told that the data would be widely used by DFES policy divisions, other Departments, local education authorities, external agencies and education researchers.

Teachers have rightly pointed out that if a child's name is retained on a database, his or her chance of getting a job or of securing further education may be prejudiced by problems that are not relevant to their situation. Teachers question whether they should provide such information. One of them pointed out that to do so might breach the European convention on human rights; that is a great concern to teachers in my area.

Mr. Andrew Turner: Does my hon. Friend agree that an even more insidious aspect of the annual school census is the collection of ethnicity data on every pupil at a maintained school? The Government have made no commitment to wipe such information at the end of pupils' school careers.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I agree with my hon. Friend, although ethnicity information is not as important in my constituency as it is in some areas.

What safeguards are there for our children? How can we ensure that children's careers are not blighted, through no fault of their own, by leaked databases? If the secret service cannot prevent that in Northern Ireland, what hope is there for the DFES?

There has been much discussion of who is providing what. I discovered the learning and skills framework for action in the minutes of the meeting of the south west regional assembly held in Exeter on 1 March. Are regional development agencies and the regional assemblies involved in education? It seems that they are. The South West Regional Development Agency has a skills and learning select committee on advanced engineering, which has met eight times. Its aim is

in sectors such as nuclear power generation, automotive, marine, aerospace and petrochemicals, but we do not train children in those sectors in our area, so why are we spending money on such matters? I also wonder why Government money that should go to teachers is being spent on the learning skills intelligence module of the regional observatory—I did not know that we had one in the south-west.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): On nuclear power, I refer the hon. Gentleman to Berkeley research centre, which is just up the road from his constituency and which does excellent work and needs trained staff.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right to mention that centre, but why do the regional

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assembly and the RDA have to do such things? Why cannot such things be done through further education and organisations dedicated to teaching, as opposed to unelected quangos?

I wonder about adult skills in the workplace. The RDA has now had vital discussions with 137 participants, and with 70 participants across the region. That is education by committee. We are all concerned about education, and if the Government want education to be taken seriously, they should not educate by committee but involve the people who understand—the teachers—not the leaders of various district and county councils.

Finally, I was amazed to notice that £3.7 million is being spent on considering where money should be spent on education in our region. Why is the Department for Education and Skills or the Government office for the south-west not doing so?

There is an education gap between urban and rural areas and resources are not reaching the children in the way that they should. In my experience, teachers are incredibly worried that there are not enough of them to provide the service in the areas that need it most, because people in those areas have the least choice in this country and are least able to get where they need to go.

5.41 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) criticised the Government for referring in their amendment to investment, but the debate is about investment—investment in the next generation. If we fail to make that investment, we will fail the next generation. In parlance that you and I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I do not expect you to arbitrate on it from your position—the hon. Gentleman's problem was that he opened the batting, but fell on his wicket at an early stage. He missed a series of things that are happening, but my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband) and other hon. Members helpfully informed told the House of the positive things that are happening in their constituencies.

I have been desperately concerned about the problems of a series of schools in my constituency—some of which date back to the beginning of the 20th century, and some even before that—whose facilities were no longer adequate to provide a modern education service. The imaginative public-private partnership that has been put together represents an exceptionally good investment, and I look forward to seeing the project develop.

There is an area of real deprivation in the town centre. Hon. Members who understand the chemical industry will understand that, close to chemical plants, there is now always a belt of housing where people live in relative deprivation. Years ago, those people commuted to the plants, but now, because of technology, the industry pays much higher wages to fewer people, and the people in that little belt of housing often find themselves socially excluded in various ways, not least in education. The education action zone in that community is having a profound effect on the quality of education.

A head teacher, who had complained to me about previous problems, told me how grateful he was that, as a result of the EAZ, he had six classroom assistants.

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He needs six classroom assistants. Many schools in better-off areas do not need such support, but he is dealing with a number of children who come from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds, so additional investment is desperately needed. The sure start programme is having similar effects in that community, as a result of real investment in the next generation.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have been in correspondence about provision for a further education college that is in recovery. The business process that was being applied to the management of resources was not adequate. The Government, through the Further Eduction Funding Council, had to intervene and take remedial action. That action is leading to positive responses, including plans being drawn up for new college buildings.

Some Labour Members feel nostalgic about the Grange centre in my constituency. Before becoming an FE college, it was a secondary modern school that was attended by none other than my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. I say to my right hon. Friend in the kindest way that I look forward to his classroom being demolished and replaced by a modern institute appropriate to the needs of students. The college has recently been inspected. It is now achieving standards that were not reached under the previous regime.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards will visit my constituency in the near future. He will see two examples of the effects of investment. First, he will see an almost brand new primary school, Brookside, which has been open for only a few months. It has brought together—[Interruption.] Not that Brookside. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) clearly spends his early evenings watching soaps. Brookside primary school brought together two schools that were in a poor physical state. As a result of a rebuild programme, some imaginative architecture and some brilliantly imaginative teachers, education is being delivered in a brand new school that is a credit to everyone involved.

I am extremely proud that it is a Labour Government who have at last put resources into the Hammond school for dance, which is on the outskirts of Chester. For the first time, moneys will go to support state pupils at the Hammond school. With the greatest respect to my colleagues who represent constituencies in the south-east, it is about time that we saw such investment in the north of the country. It is the first time such investment has been made outside the south-east.

Last Friday, I gave a public lecture at Chester college in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Ms Russell). The college is participating in the training of 1,500 nurses. That is an exceptionally good use of the expansion of resources that has resulted from investment in higher and further education in my area.

I agreed with a couple of points made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel). We must raise the profile of the teaching of science, mathematics and technology. We must enthuse school children about the exciting possibilities that those technologies will bring to them. I daily see a lack of understanding of science in the community, which impacts on people's judgments about things that surround them.

On the positive side, work is being done by the Hadley centre on oceanographic research, about which children enthuse. The same is true of the work of the European

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Space Agency, NASA and Bob Ballard's research project in submarine activities in the United States. Such work is at the cutting edge of science and has a tangible dimension; we need to give our children access to such things to ensure that they understand where the cutting-edge technologies are taking us and why their involvement in practical science will be of benefit in future. Otherwise, a generation will grow up getting their science from pressure groups and so on; that generation's science will be based on a bigoted view, such as the creationism to which the hon. Member for Newbury referred, rather than proper research undertaken in the laboratory and the world around us.

I would not stop the observations of people who regard themselves as creationists being explained to children, but I would use properly taught science to put those observations in context. For example, the next step above the one bearing the plaque about Charles I's trial in Westminster Hall contains a wonderful coral fossil; science can be used to explain cogently that that fossil is more than 200 million years old, not 4,000 years and a few days. Such science, taught properly in schools, can help to excite the next generation.

The Government have done a huge amount to apply technology in schools. At Brookside school, which I mentioned earlier, the internet, including internet whiteboards, is an immensely powerful tool. We must make sure not only that our pupils are ready to grasp that tool but that our teachers are properly equipped to deal with those technologies and can pass on their benefits to their students.

In conclusion, I am sure that the Under-Secretaries of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friends the Members for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) and for Wentworth (John Healey), are pressing their case firmly in the comprehensive spending review. I am sure that most Members would back them solidly to maintain the pressure for continued investment. The Government have made such investment in the past four and a half years, but if that does not continue, standards will decline. That point impacts on some of those made by the hon. Member for Newbury, who was right that people's perceptions of education are based on a system in which there has been poor investment for a couple of generations. The advances that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields sought to promote cannot take place unless we have a Government who continue to make a positive investment in the next generation.

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