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Educational Maintenance Allowances

5. Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): What assessment she has made of the impact of educational maintenance allowances. [64400]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education (Margaret Hodge): An independent evaluation of EMAs has been taking place since 1999. Further

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evidence from the second year was published yesterday. The findings so far are highly encouraging. EMAs have produced large increases in participation among the target group, not only in the first year of post-compulsory education but into their second year as well.

Mr. Challen: What does the evidence show for levels of commitment to study, performance and retention rates among young students, particularly those from lower income brackets? I understand that evidence shows that parents are not taking up EMAs on their child's behalf as much as they perhaps should and, indeed, that application levels are reduced by incomplete forms.

Margaret Hodge: The evidence that we published yesterday is highly encouraging. It shows that in year 12 we have a 6 per cent. increase in the number of young people in full-time education—that is 1 per cent. up from the last evaluation—and a 7.3 per cent. increase in the number of young people staying on in year 13, so the retention is good. In particular, there have been increases in the number of young men, which we are pleased about, people in urban areas, which is also good news, and those who are eligible for the full maintenance allowance, which suggests those who come from the poorest backgrounds and is also good news.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): What evidence was there about attainment?

Margaret Hodge: It is very early days to get good evidence on attainment, but it is beginning to emerge. Good evidence shows that at levels one and two qualifications attainment is up. There is also an increase in the number of young men choosing to go into higher education. I would not want to suggest that those are completely definite results from the attainment data, because it is too early. We must wait for good, solid data before we can draw permanent conclusions.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough): There is no doubt that the educational maintenance allowance pilots have been an outstanding success in my two local education authorities, Barnsley and Doncaster, where staying-on rates have increased by more than 5 per cent. Is the Department monitoring the types of courses taken by EMA students in terms of the split between academic and vocational courses? It might be useful to see whether there are different trends between courses taken by EMA students and by non-EMA students.

Margaret Hodge: We are monitoring that data as well. We are developing our proposals for 14 to 19-year-olds to try to raise the status of vocational qualifications and to ensure progression for those undertaking vocational routes right through into higher education. We will ensure that opportunities are available to people from all backgrounds wishing to pursue all sorts of options for later careers.

School Violence

6. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): If she will make a statement about the level of violence in schools. [64401]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): We are determined to ensure that schools are places where staff and students learn and work free from violence. We have always made it clear that when necessary head teachers can permanently exclude violent pupils. We have published detailed guidance for schools on preventing bullying. On Tuesday, we published a toolkit for schools on legal remedies against violent adults, and we will extend parenting orders to cover parents of pupils excluded for violence.

Mr. Swayne: Last week, a headmaster in my constituency told me that the greatest single problem now facing the profession is no longer the Government's intrusive bureaucracy, but the sheer level of indiscipline and disorder in schools, of which violent behaviour is perhaps the most worrying. In response to written questions on the matter, Ministers have replied that the data are not collected centrally. I put it to the Minister that if he does not collect the data, how can he have any idea about the size of problem over which he is presiding?

Mr. Twigg: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman and the head teacher in his constituency acknowledge the work that we have done to lift some of the bureaucratic burdens on schools. We need to work together on a cross-party basis on problems involving behaviour and tackling violence. We do have statistics for violent assaults on teachers, and there are far too many of them—130 in the last recorded year. We want to ensure that there is zero tolerance of that violent behaviour, whether it is against pupils or staff, and that is what we will continue to work towards.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): One of the initiatives that has really helped my local schools in Slough to deal with violent behaviour is the schools-based response to the street crime initiative whereby police officers work more closely with schools. How can we learn the lessons of what works as regards police officers working closely with schools and spread them to areas that are not part of the street crime initiative?

Mr. Twigg: I thank my hon. Friend. This week, we were able to announce our agreement to the 34 local plans implementing and spending the £66 million package announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget to tackle issues of pupil behaviour, especially in parts of the country where there are high levels of street crime and pupil truancy. We will evaluate police involvement in schools. The project has received a very positive response from schools, the police and LEAs, and I look forward to reporting back to the House as it progresses.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The last time I tabled a written question asking for the statistics on violence against teachers, I was told that the Department did not collect them. I now look forward to receiving the figures when I next table that question.

The Minister claims that the Government believe that heads should be free to exclude violent pupils. He must know that the biggest problem that schools face is that when they exclude pupils who are violent, all too often

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the exclusion is overturned on appeal. Will he go further and issue robust guidance to appeals panels that they must not overturn an exclusion when a pupil is violent?

Mr. Twigg: On the hon. Gentleman's first point, the statistics are collected by the Health and Safety Executive. For the last year for which we have figures—2000–01—130 cases of serious injuries were reported to the HSE.

On his second point, of course we will maintain a review of the guidance that we send to schools. One of our objectives is to ensure that authorities make full-time education places available to young people who are excluded from school, because that has not always been the case in the past.

School Travel

7. Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): If she will make a statement on her Department's policies regarding travel to school. [64402]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Compulsory school age pupils are entitled to free transport if their nearest suitable school is beyond statutory walking distance from their home. In other circumstances, local education authorities have the discretion to provide help with travel in accordance with locally determined policies.

For post-16 students, there is a duty on LEAs to determine what is necessary to meet their local circumstances.

Charlotte Atkins: Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the policy of charging over-16 students to use school buses that were free before they were 16, first, appears to be a tax on rural school students; secondly, encourages congestion around schools because parents or, indeed, pupils themselves drive to school; and, thirdly, runs counter to the Government's excellent education maintenance allowance initiative, which encourages 16-year-olds to stay in education after school leaving age?

Mr. Twigg: I am well aware of the concern that my hon. Friend and others have expressed about this matter, which is being considered because the practice is inconsistent across the country. Further education colleges have the discretion to use their learner support funds to pay the student contribution—some FE colleges in Staffordshire do so, while others do not, and that is one of the inconsistent practices that we need to address.

Pathfinder projects are addressing the issue, and will report later this year. As my hon. Friend suggests, we are piloting some EMA schemes aimed specifically at funding the higher transport costs in rural areas. We will take on board the lessons that can be learned from the pilots as part of the wider evaluation of the education maintenance allowances.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): Does the Minister take on board the problems of rural sparsity? Will he review the problems with Devon's education finances that arise from the county's huge school transport costs? What will his Department do about that as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Twigg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Of course that is one of the factors that we are considering

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in reviewing the whole local government funding system, including education funding. The hon. Gentleman refers to Devon; another Member mentioned Yorkshire—[Interruption.] Members representing all the different authorities are shouting. We want to get the best possible system that meets the different needs of rural areas, as well as urban areas. We must ensure that we do not allow school transport policies to act as a barrier to the inclusion of those who want to stay in education after the age of 16.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): May I raise with my hon. Friend the case of Mrs. Stoker and Mrs. Scott-Davey, whose children, Katie and Jonathon, attend St. Leonard's Catholic school in Durham? The children are non-Catholic, so they are not automatically entitled to free transport, unlike their Catholic neighbours. Does he agree that to discriminate against children on the grounds of religion in that way is wrong? Will he look at that case?

Mr. Twigg: I am certainly happy to have a look at the case. I imagine that, as non-Catholic parents, they would have had the option of another, nearer school. That is how the rules work at the moment, but I am happy to take another look at that.

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