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Further Education

3. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): If she will make a statement on the Government's plans for the further education sector. [50347]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): The further education sector is central to delivering the Government's lifelong learning objectives. There is already much excellence in the sector and we want to build on that best practice to achieve high-quality learning for all. We are already discussing with those who work in further education how we can improve standards, and we will announce our proposals, supported by the outcome of the spending review, later this year.

Dr. Cable: Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that when we were visited on Tuesday by lecturers and other staff from colleges attended by 700,000 16 to 19-year-olds, there was a genuine sense of betrayal about the fact that although the Government promised a convergence of funding, pay and status with other post-16 education, exactly the opposite has happened? How can she justify the fact that college lecturers at most points of the salary scale are paid £6,000 a year less for giving teaching identical to that provided by teachers in schools?

Estelle Morris: I acknowledge that much of the investment that we made in mainstream school salaries for teachers in our first term led to a widening of the difference between the amount that could be paid for teaching in further education and schools. I have always acknowledged that. We were very straight in 1997 about where our priorities lay—and to some extent, things can only be done one at a time. We invested heavily in early-years education and in primary and secondary schools. I entirely accept from the many people who lobbied us on Tuesday that there is an issue about differential salaries. The Government made it clear before the 2001 election that we would seek to redress that balance during this Parliament, as our education reform agenda moved on into the further and higher education sectors.

Having acknowledged that issue—although I think that those in further education accept that it was right to prioritise early-years and primary education—I must add

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that nobody should run away with a belief that there has been no investment in FE. There had been a steady year-on-year cut under the Conservative Government, and there has been a 20 per cent. increase in real-terms funding in further education since 1997. We certainly hope to build on that in the years to come.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Does my right hon. Friend recall that at the previous Education Question Time I referred to the threatened demise—according to some newspapers—of the North Derbyshire tertiary college, and called on the Government to ensure that it would be kept open? A rescue plan has been put forward today by the college's governors and others. I am pretty certain that that will be linked with the Markham employment growth zone, an exciting development involving about 8,000 jobs, and the training capacity at Clowne would be excellent. Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that the Government will look into this and make sure that the college is kept open? We have had all the pit closures we can stomach in our area; we have got to save this college.

Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend has been assiduous and vocal in bringing the North Derbyshire tertiary college to our attention. My starting point is the same as his: those who live in his area are entitled to top-rate further education and training opportunities for employment, for personal fulfilment and for all those other things that we know education is for. He is absolutely right about that.

I know that he will also agree that we want the best quality we can possibly get, and there is no reason why people who live in Bolsover should get lower quality because they happen to have a further education college that is not as good as it should be at this time. We want provision, but it must be excellent provision. I know that that is our shared starting point. A lot of discussions are taking place at the moment. The plan that my hon. Friend mentioned is one of many, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning will be visiting the college to talk to everyone who wants to put any points to her. No change is not an option, because my hon. Friend and I both want better quality provision for the people in that area.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): Just what is it that makes today's Government so different, and so appealing to further education that for the first time, principals, staff unions and students all combined in this week's lobby of Parliament? Is it related to the dismay over the lack of trust displayed by the Government as core funding continues to decline, or to the blank astonishment illustrated by the sharp intake of breath that greeted the claim by the Minister for Lifelong Learning to those who were lobbying that they had received extra money, although none of them was able to identify it? Or is it Ministers' misleading comments last month on quality, which, according to the Association of Colleges, aroused

Will the Secretary of State confide to the House the secret of her Government's success in uniting further education?

Estelle Morris: I will tell the hon. Gentleman exactly how this Government are different from the last Government: we invest in education; we make capital investments; FE lecturers have the opportunity to train for

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qualifications; there are centres for vocational excellence that did not exist before; we have targets and are delivering on them; and more people have learning opportunities. That is the difference between us and the Conservative Government.

Those in the FE sector are impatient for change, but so are we. As I said to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), we made it clear in 1997 that our priorities were early-years, primary and secondary education. We delivered in those sectors, and we delivered well. We made it clear in our 2001 manifesto that our priority—as well as schools—would be further and higher education. Believe me, we will deliver—and deliver well—on that, too.

School Buildings

4. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): What assistance is offered to local education authorities to replace and improve old school buildings for secondary education; and if she will make a statement. [50348]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (John Healey): We have provided more than £7.5 billion in the last five years for school buildings. In the next two years we are making a further £6.5 billion available. Most of this money is allocated by formula to local education authorities and they allocate it to schools according to locally determined priorities. We do not separately allocate capital for primary and secondary schools.

Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend will be aware of the bid by the Wakefield local education authority for help and resources for refurbishing its secondary schools, including Horbury school and Ossett school. Normanton, a former mining community and railway centre, is acknowledged to be a deprived area, and we are in desperate need of new buildings at the Freeston high school to replace the 70-year-old buildings in which children are being taught at present. Does my hon. Friend agree that if future generations in Normanton are to achieve the necessary standards, skills and success, we need those new buildings? Will he visit my constituency to see for himself the need for refurbishment of its secondary schools?

John Healey: My hon. Friend will be aware that central Government have provided £40 million extra in the past five years for capital expenditure in the LEA area, and we have already allocated a further £22 million over the next two years. I am aware of the £38 million private finance initiative bid, and I know that two of the three secondary schools that would have benefited most are in his constituency.

Wakefield LEA will have another chance to bid again later this year and my Department, which has offered detailed feedback to the authority on its previous bid, is happy to work with it to develop a future application. My hon. Friend's constituency shares many characteristics with my own, so I would be happy to take up his invitation to see the state of the schools for myself, following his expression of concern about them.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Education Ministers are well aware of the problems that we have in Macclesfield in connection with secondary education and the possible amalgamation of two schools. Is the Minister

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aware that the Learning and Skills Council has made a most exciting proposal to establish an education learning zone in Macclesfield, which could solve all the problems about the money that might be required to improve and modernise Ryles Park school. Is he prepared to meet me to discuss that exciting project, which would solve a lot of education problems in Macclesfield?

John Healey: I would be only too pleased to meet the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). However, if he will forgive me, I shall first have a good look at the plans put together by the LSC to see whether they are as exciting and visionary as he suggests. I look forward to discussing them with him.

John Mann (Bassetlaw): Will the Minister confirm that the Government intend to use the money for new schools not just to improve the building stock, but to raise aspirations and expectations among children in areas such as the coalfields, where there has historically been underachievement in schools? That would provide not just new buildings, but a catalyst for improving and raising the aspirations of the kids as well as teachers' and communities' expectations of them.

John Healey: My hon. Friend, too, has a constituency that shares many characteristics with my own, and he is absolutely right to remind us not just of the significant increases in capital investment in schools under this Government, but the reason for them, which is that better buildings and better equipment produce better schools. That encourages better learning and improved aspirations among the kids who attend them, which are essential for students and staff as part of our bid to raise attainment, especially in disadvantaged areas where staying-on rates and kids' achievements have for too long been too low.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The Government are to be congratulated on introducing asset management plans for schools, but given the huge backlog of buildings that need renovation, the so-called temporary classrooms and the need for new science laboratories in many secondary schools, does the Minister share my concern that often, the capital resources available to local education authorities will not match the needs identified in the asset management plans? Does he agree that expectations have been created that can only lead to disappointment? How can we produce more capital assets for the LEAs so that we can get the schools built?

John Healey: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's endorsement of asset management plans, which we introduced in 1999, along with the first ever full survey of all schools in every LEA area—although I am not surprised to hear another bid for extra funding made from the Liberal Benches. I remind him that central Government investment has increased sharply since 1997. In the final year under the Tories it was £700 million. Last year it was three times that. Next year it will be five times that. Clearly there is a limit to what central Government can provide, even through such a generous settlement, which is why the PFI has an important part to play in supplementing it.

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