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1.11 pm

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): I concur with the comments of many other hon. Members in the Chamber today about the extraordinary degree of skill, ability and dedication that we cherish and respect in the teaching profession in this country. If there is one lesson that we have learned, which is appropriate in a debate on education, it is that many parents seem to wish to abdicate responsibility for their children's upbringing and put that responsibility on the shoulders of teachers, support staff and the entire school community. I have been massively impressed, both today and in my day-to-day experience, by the extraordinary skills of our teachers. None of us should miss any opportunity to make that point.

At 8.30 this morning, I was speaking to Peter La Farge, the head teacher of Greenwood school in my constituency, about a fairly serious matter—the replacement of hutted accommodation. He broke off from the conversation to identify two pupils in the playground who he was convinced were about to start a fight. It is that quality of anticipation and sheer skill in teachers to which we must pay credit.

As many other hon. Members have done, I pay credit to the assured, skilled and deeply caring and committed introduction to the debate by my hon. Friend the Minister. I do not share his happy childhood memories of education. I was the original schoolboy with

though had I faced the prospect of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) as a supply teacher, I might have revised my opinion.

However, I left school at the age of 15 and a half, by mutual agreement with the head teacher, and was fortunate, as one could do in those days, to go straight into the Royal Navy, where I learned to kill people with expediency, which stood me in no little good stead when I came to apply for a job later. I was told that as that was my only qualification, I should try the national health service. In fact, I spent 10 years working as a hospital porter.

The point—which relates to the comment by the hon. Member for Lichfield about sanctions—is that, like many schoolboys and, sadly, even some schoolgirls of my generation, I was beaten continuously and thrashed

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remorselessly on a daily basis. I will not state, as many people do, that it did me no harm. It did me a great deal of harm. I had absolutely no interest whatever in education. I was out the door at the earliest opportunity, without a GCSE, O-level, A-level or any qualification to my name. Fortunately, I found sanctuary in the structured and disciplined violence of boxing and London Labour politics, and was able to make something of a career for myself. I do not think that looking back to some black-and-white past of cane-wielding teachers, even should they now repose in Lichfield, is the way that we should aim to approach the debate today.

I felt sorry for the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) with his cri de coeur that he was ever the bridesmaid and never the blushing bride, and the House has sympathy with him for that. However, he did refer to drugs, which in many ways illustrate one of the horrors of the reality of education and, in particular, parental involvement.

Some of the worst cases of drug involvement in schools that I have been aware of have been where boys have sold cannabis which they obtained from their father, who grows it, smokes it and allows it in the home and in no way condemns it, and even gives his son that drug to sell. That is an actual case.

Two years ago I was at a school asking year 6 pupils what they most wanted in life and one child said that what she most wanted was for her mother's boyfriend to stop injecting himself in the kitchen because he sprayed blood all over the tiles.

I could give many other horrific examples, but I shall give only one more. At a show-and-tell in an adjoining borough to mine, a primary school child brought in the most valued object in the house, which was a small glass cocaine container that her mother obviously cherished and valued. That is the reality.

We saw from last year's Ofsted report that 80 per cent. of children found truanting were accompanied by an adult. Adults have real responsibilities in this regard and we cannot, as a House, as individuals, as parents, simply stand back and expect teachers to take up that slack and carry that load. Parents must become more involved. How right my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) was to pay credit to sure start, the lesson of which is precisely that everyone must be involved in a child's education. If it takes a village to educate a child, it takes a family to nurture and support that child. Everyone must be involved.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) rightly drew attention to the decline in the number of exclusions, which he said peaked at 13,000. About 12,700 pupils were excluded in 1996–97 and there has been a 28 per cent. reduction in that figure. That points towards the core of this debate, which is the need to achieve a balance between the needs of the excluded and allowing teachers to teach, pupils to learn, schools to operate as schools and classrooms to be the places where children can grow and learn and expand their horizons and become better people.

As has rightly been said, one may be excluded from school but one is not excluded from society. Simply taking the children from the school may solve the problem in that place, at that hour, on that day, but it displaces the problem to society at large. We must address that in the round. If the curse of modern politics is the constant

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reference to things being joined up, let us live with that, because we must see things in the totality, in their global perspective, and work with that.

Many hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall briefly refer to experience in the London borough of Ealing where we faced precisely that problem. When I was elected, all the high schools bar one were grant-maintained and the pupils that they excluded all ended up in the one non-grant-maintained high school, which, inevitably, despite the best efforts of the teachers, support staff and governors, became perceived as a sink school. It is now being relaunched as a city academy. It simply is not enough to move the problem on.

In Ealing, we have worked with the Government on sure start throughout. I pay credit to assistant director Howard Shephardson and our inspirational director of education, Dr. Caroline Whalley, and particularly to Councillor Leo Thompson, the council cabinet member with responsibility for this area. We had a high level of permanent exclusions, but we now have a joint LEA-school panel, known as a placement panel, which meets regularly for referral purposes, to discuss policy issues involving partnerships.

I give credit to the excellence in cities partnership forum, which allows us to develop a behaviour and social inclusion strategy for secondary-aged pupils in Ealing. That allows us to share out pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties so that no one school is over-burdened. That is completely different from the beggar-my-neighbour, devil-take-the-hindmost policy that sadly existed among some proponents of grant-maintained schools. Support systems for any child who is being reintegrated are agreed through the panel members working together.

The primary sector in Ealing has undergone an extensive review, resulting in a decision to close the primary EBD or educational and behavioural difficulties school and develop more flexible and inclusive provision. We have replaced the school with a centre that has a multi-agency approach providing educational programmes and therapeutic support. The primary behaviour team works from the centre to support schools in behaviour management and reintegration of pupils who have had a placement at the centre. In other words, it addresses the needs of the pupil while recognising the importance of the school being allowed to teach and the pupils being allowed to learn.

The number of permanent exclusions has been massively reduced. The preventive role of the PRUs, or pupil referral units, has been mentioned. In Ealing, we have developed over the past few years an "at risk" model for early identification—an issue that was picked up earlier. We have done so because we owe it to our children and young people, who are the citizens of tomorrow—the child is the father or mother of the adult—to give them that early identification. I would recommend the "at risk" model to anyone.

In Ealing, we are currently working with a range of agencies on developing the multi-agency provision and support plan that sets out the contribution that each of the support agencies will make. The process is defined and delineated from stage one, and provides for 25 hours of education for permanently excluded pupils. That is slightly below the Government's target, which is, I think,

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27 hours, but I assure the Minister that we are getting there. The provision is intended to extend to at risk and vulnerable pupils.

I should like to refer also to the children and young people's strategic partnership, which is overseeing the children's fund development. That is beginning to contribute significantly. An early intervention co-ordinator and panel, mentoring and summer schemes are all designed to target intervention to prevent children from becoming involved in youth crime. Through the excellence in cities programme and PRG—pupil retention grant—funding, Ealing high schools have become self-sufficient in meeting the needs of students with a range of difficulties. We now have specialist counsellors, learning mentors, therapists and business mentor schemes—precisely the theories that we have talked and heard about today. We are now seeing those concepts being delivered in practice in my borough, in the place where my children go to school. The improvements are now working, and the local education authority team aims through regular consultation with schools to complement those schemes and assist them where they require additional help and where an objective outside agency input is required.

Intervention and support for children with mental health and therapeutic needs have also been referred to. They are a major focus area for primary and secondary behaviour support and provision development. In Ealing, we currently have a partnership project between the child and adolescent mental health service—the CAMHS—and the study centre of the PRU to develop a bridge for parents and pupils in accessing mental health services. A therapeutic inclusion project is planned to link the PRU with an Ealing high school that currently has good practice in support and intervention for its pupils. We also co-ordinate training and support across the borough.

In addition to the core support services provided by the LEA, there is a range of other ongoing and developing initiatives to support primary and secondary pupils in improving the management of pupil behaviour to support vulnerable groups. Those initiatives include the looked-after children education/social services team, a multidisciplinary team that we are continuing this year and which again brings together all the experts in the field, the "at risk" preventive programme and the PRU curriculum, which has developed substantially in the past two years and which incorporates the explorer programme, about which we may hear more.

The Ealing parent partnership mentoring programme for pupils in years 3, 4, 5 and 6 provides the assistance and support for which hon. Members have called. Such a mentoring service exists in Ealing, thanks to a Government initiative, my hon. Friend the Minister's pathfinding work and the local education authority's active response. Ealing parent partnership and the primary and secondary behaviour teams are currently working with feeder primary and secondary schools. Thirty year 6 children, who were identified as vulnerable, are taking part in a transition skills programme. They will be supported until they reach year 7.

We have a new joint social services and education post through the standards fund. We are grateful for that. A social worker who supports the work of the primary and secondary behaviour teams will therefore be placed in the social services teams and provide a direct link between education and social services.

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Connexions was mentioned earlier. It is the finest example of mentoring for secondary school pupils. It provides a role model and support as well as the parameters and boundaries that young people need. We are delighted to be one of the first education authorities to work with Connexions.

We obviously support a continuation and extension of the excellence in cities initiatives, for example, the excellence challenge for post-16 students and further funding for standards fund initiatives.

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