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Mrs. Browning: I realise the hon. Gentleman is coming to the end of his remarks. I just wanted to say how appreciative the House is of the full and detailed reply that he has given to the debate.

Mr. Bradshaw: It is very kind of the hon. Lady. One always comes under some pressure to be as quick as possible, particularly when other hon. Members are waiting patiently, but I am grateful for her remarks. I have not finished quite yet.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight raised a serious point. I was slightly puzzled, because my understanding of the new rules was that Ministers would look flexibly at the co-habitation requirement. One of the problems for unmarried couples—same-sex or heterosexual couples—is that to meet the two-year cohabitation requirement, they have to be in the same place and for many of them it is difficult under the immigration rules to be in the same place. My understanding, from cases in my constituency, was that the matter would be considered flexibly and a two-year provable relationship would suffice. I will certainly raise the issue with Lord Rooker.

I also suggest that the hon. Gentleman's constituent contact the Stonewall immigration department, which runs an excellent advice service for couples such as those he referred to. I would point out, however, that until this Government came to power, there were no immigration rights for same-sex or unmarried couples.

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The hon. Gentleman also congratulated the Cowes Customs and Excise office on the excellent job that it did recently in busting a multi-million-pound cocaine smuggling operation, and asked me to promise not to close it. I cannot deliver that promise, but I will pass on his concerns to the Minister responsible and say how much he and his constituents value the office's work.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) usefully identified a number of subjects that have come up repeatedly in this debate. These debates are an excellent barometer of constituents' concerns. Ministers in all Departments should scan this debate for areas of concern. I shall certainly draw several matters to the relevant Ministers' attention.

The right hon. Gentleman was a little unfair about what happened last Thursday. I do not mind the fact that we have been here for five or six hours, but he must realise that insisting on a Division last Thursday could have meant that we had no debate at all tonight. The Government did the right thing in ensuring that we have had a full debate.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he enjoyed travelling to the south-west recently. I am sure that it was a pleasurable experience for us to have him. I hope that many hon. Members, present and not present tonight, will take the opportunity of the summer recess to visit Devon and Cornwall—which brings me to my final point.

Several hon. Members spoke about the long summer recess, without exception hoping that it would be the last one. They thought that it would be right for us to sit in September. I hope that they will support the package that we hope to propose to the House to ensure that that happens. On that note, I wish all the right hon. and hon. Members who stayed until 1.30 am for this debate a very happy recess, and happy holidays.

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East): I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.


Merchant Shipping

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Education (Castle Point)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heppell.]

1.33 am

Bob Spink (Castle Point): As we have been here since yesterday afternoon, my hon. Friends the Members for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) took me to the Tea Room and bought me a mug of tea and a rock cake. I now know why they are called rock cakes, but I will try to struggle on.

I hope that we can have a positive exchange, welcoming the education successes and addressing the issues, both large and small, in my constituency. Schoolchildren and staff alike will go off for the holidays tired and happy, but also a little anxious about the results that will come out in August. They deserve a wonderful break, because they work so hard, and they deserve the excellent results that will be returned in Castle Point, where the story of education is a tale of excellence. Governors, staff, pupils and parents in Castle Point can all be rightly proud of their great achievements, and I thank them on behalf of the whole community that I represent. The results in August will show another superb year, building on previous extraordinary years of achievement. I should like to add my thanks to the lollipop ladies and gentlemen who come out in all weathers to keep our children safe. They deserve our respect and our gratitude no less than all the other members of the school staff.

I thank the Government for increasing education funding—so far as it has gone. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills told me that

I accept her sincerity, and I do not seek to make political points, but the funds do not seem to be getting through to the schools in Castle Point, and I shall adduce evidence to that effect as the debate progresses. That lack of funds is exacerbating a serious staffing problem—if not a crisis—in those schools, which is also affecting several schools across Essex.

On funding, all Essex secondary schools are suffering in the 2002–03 financial year. In cash terms, the standard spending assessment increase is 6.7 per cent. After taking account of pupil number increases, the cash increase for Essex secondary schools is 4.3 per cent., but the actual increase in the cost of staffing Essex schools is considerably more, requiring a cash increase of approximately 9.5 per cent. As a result of interplay between the Learning and Skills Council and the local education authority, all schools for 11 to 16-year-olds, and many for 11 to 18-year-olds, have received cash increases of between 2.9 per cent. and 3.5 per cent. only. All but a minority of Essex secondary schools have a revenue budget shortfall for 2002–03 of between 3 per cent. and 5 per cent.

Many schools will be forced to divert spending from standards fund targeted allowances in order to produce a balanced budget. For other schools, it will not be possible to produce a balanced budget for this financial year. I am grateful to the Association of Secondary Heads in Essex for that information, and particularly to Ted Rowley,

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an Essex head teacher. The association is not a Conservative source; it is a highly independent and extremely reliable source of information.

Does the Minister agree with the idea of schools running a deficit budget, and if not, should they sack teachers instead? I shall be interested to hear his reply. I hope that he does not try to blame Essex county council for the shortfall. It was given a very limited amount of cash this year, and it has to spend an enormous amount to maintain social care of the most vulnerable people in our society. That is why it was unable to meet all schools' needs.

If that were not enough, the Government now seek to change the funding rules for next year in such a way as to remove even more cash from schools in Essex and in Castle Point. In essence, the Government propose to redistribute money from shire counties in the south of England to deprived areas in metropolitan cities in the north, and to the inner London boroughs. As the front-page headline of the 9 July edition of The Times says, "Labour will tax Tory voters to fund heartlands". As Lord Hanningfield, the leader of Essex county council, says, the Government's proposals

The various Government options for change next year in education funding show a possible loss of £46.5 million in option EDU4. That is the result of a combination of the change in the education formula, plus a loss in the area cost adjustment. Teachers, parents and governors in Castle Point view the recent promise of £50,000 direct cash for schools in the context of losses of £100,000 to £250,000 for their schools. Put simply, the public, especially governors of schools, have lost trust in this Government.

It is increasingly difficult to recruit and retain teachers in Essex, without that further burden from the Government. The proposed changes in the education formula and area cost adjustment would damage Essex and Castle Point schools enormously. I hope that the Minister will say how much more the Government will give to Castle Point schools. Does he think that Castle Point school heads and governors have been incompetent in recent years, or does he think that Castle Point has a real problem?

One local special school will have a crisis in staff vacancies in December this year. Two secondary schools, one on the mainland and one on Canvey island will each lose 17 teachers in September. I recently received a letter from a Castle Point school dated 2 July. It reads:

those are the two key issues. The letter finishes:

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I will not identify the school, because it could be one of many in Castle Point or in Essex. I have written to the Secretary of State and to Councillor Iris Pummell, who has responsibility for the education portfolio in Essex, and I hope that we can obtain some positive help for that school and for others. It would be a travesty of justice if we allowed Ofsted to damage that school and to set back all the excellent work done in Castle Point and on Canvey island to improve the image and profile of education in the borough, and to improve public and parent confidence in, and engagement with, education. That would be neither just nor constructive. It would do irreparable damage to our efforts to build up the importance of education locally. It would send negative signals to teachers looking for jobs and set back our ability to recruit and retain even further. It would damage local education, the community and, of course, our children.

I say to the Minister, "Let us work together now to solve this problem with that school and others." That would, first, cost less money than an adverse Ofsted report and, secondly, protect and enhance our educational achievements across the community. The teachers and public will not forgive the Government if they ignore those words and pleas and, through Ofsted, trash schools that have already suffered in terms of money and teacher vacancies through no fault of their own.

I thank the Government for some education blessings. The Deanes is an excellent specialist sports college. It has worked successfully with a large family of more than 40 schools in raising standards and developing opportunities in supporting gifted and talented performers, curriculum development, professional development, ICT development in physical education, dance and community sport. The Deanes, through its successful record, has received much interest from national governing bodies of sport with a view to their delivering their national strategy across Deanes and its family of schools. We welcome this partnership involvement.

The King John school has just been awarded specialist maths and computing college status, for which I am grateful to the Government. The school has a fantastic wide-ranging list of plans and will truly add to Great Britain plc. It achieved a 64 per cent. gold standard. That is five or more GCSEs at C grade or above in the past year. That is a remarkable achievement for a school with a very mixed intake.

Appleton school remains at the forefront of achievement as well. I hope that it will secure specialist college status in the near future.

The three Canvey secondary schools are currently bidding for joint or co-operative specialist status on a well-balanced portfolio of Castle View as science, Cornelius Vermuyden as arts—that is visual—and Firtherwick Park 11 to 18 school as maths and computing.

Canvey Island is a special and separate community. It is a close knit, supportive and friendly community with great skills and excellent head teachers across the board. I hope that the Minister will meet me to discuss how we can best promote the collaborative three-way bids. It is an excellent approach that has great merit, and success is much needed to help solve some of our local difficulties on Canvey Island, and locally in education.

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We are making enormous steps forward in education on the island, and this progress must not be put at risk, especially not by Ofsted, which should be constructive. Helen Marsden, a Canvey teacher, said that

If that does not bring teachers rushing to Canvey Island to teach in our schools, I do not know what will.

Another local success is Glenwood school for children with complex learning difficulties. It achieved beacon status, and was the first Essex school to do so. The head, the staff and the parents are to be much congratulated on that. Essex is taking a collaborative approach with closer integration of the three agencies—education, health and social services—to help these children find the right way forward. I congratulate all those who are involved in that approach.

The Glenwood chairman of governors, Alan Bennett, and his governing body are to be much congratulated and thanked for the work that they do. We must never forget that our governing bodies are voluntary. They do what they do out of the goodness of their hearts because they passionately believe in their communities. Perhaps I should declare an interest, because Alan Bennett and his superb kids, Nickie and Jamie, who attend Glenwood school, often join me at Canvey Island football club to cheer on Britain's premier giant killers—Canvey Island, of course.

Glenwood school is not the only excellent special school in my constituency. Cedar Hall is equally excellent, under the superb headship of Chris Bent. I sometimes feel that our special school heads are some of the best heads in the country. There is a strong place for special schools. Too much inclusion would be much against the interests of the children. We need a balance. Children with global learning difficulties need their peer groups as much as other children.

I end this contribution where perhaps I should have started it: the nursery sector—the most important foundation stage, where we give children the joy of education, discovery, learning and the essential social skills and discipline to launch them successfully into their school careers. There are many excellent nurseries in Castle Point. I shall mention just one in each of the three main communities in my constituency: Pumpkins on Canvey Island, First Class in Benfleet, and Sandcastles in Hadleigh provide superb and caring environments for our young children and are a model to all nursery schools throughout Essex. There is but one cloud on the nursery school horizon: Ofsted.

Since Ofsted took over inspection from social services, things have started to go wrong. Ofsted must not seek to gold-plate regulations or apply them over-vigorously. That would be very counterproductive. Ofsted must try to work co-operatively and flexibly. In other words, it must be constructive and find solutions and stability. It must not create uncertainty or even bring about the abandonment of much-needed and excellent resources, especially when no alternative is available.

EDNA—the Essex Day Nurseries Association—has had cause for concern about Ofsted and has called a meeting to deal with the problem. For example, our most experienced and valuable nursery managers, who have

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qualified pre-1989 and have been doing the job for decades and are currently training and testing new staff up to NNEB level 3, must not be made to retrain so long as they have updated themselves regularly on the various courses.

Ofsted inspectors must act fairly and not seek to entrap nurseries simply to justify their own position and work, as has happened. I could give the Minister specific details if he wished to question me on them. Ofsted needs to use common sense, sensitivity and courtesy in dealing with our nurseries. I hope that we have now put a shot across its bow and that we will not need to return to the issue. If that is not the case, watch this space!

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