The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): Before I answer that question, it is right that I put on record the deep shock and sadness felt throughout the education world at the resignation yesterday of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris). Her contribution to education over the last five years has been immense. Pupils are taught better, in smaller classes, by better-paid, better-trained, better-supported teachers, thanks to her outstanding efforts. That is her legacy. She pioneered important reforms in our education system, but she did more that that. She acted at all times with complete integrity, total dedication and one goalnot her advancement but the advancement and achievement of pupils. Everybody with an interest in education will deeply regret her departure, and the world of politics is a much lesser place as a result of her absence from the top table. Politics needs people like my right hon. Friend.
The House will also have gathered, from the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), that the Prime Minister has appointed him Secretary of State for Education and Skills. My right hon. Friend is not known as a quiet man, and the House will have many opportunities to question him in his new role. For the next hour, however, he will leave the questions to me and my more experienced ministerial colleagues.
As for the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), the Department has offered development funding to a partnership between Roger De Haan and Kent local education authority to draw up detailed plans for a proposed academy to replace Ramsgate school in Kent. We are determined to do all that we can to help deeply disadvantaged pupils in that area. All local interests will be fully consulted on the proposals.
Dr. Ladyman: May I say that I very much share the sentiments expressed about my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris)? In view of the personal nature of her statement last night, may I ask on behalf of hon. Members, certainly on the Labour Benches, that our love and best wishes be passed on to her? I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) on his appointment; it is an excellent choice.
As for the Ramsgate school, the announcement by my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards is potentially the most exciting prospect for education in my constituency in a generation. I say that not just as a Member of Parliament but as a father of a young girl who is keen
Mr. Miliband: I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that the proposed academy is designed to be of benefit to many pupils in the area. The development funding is offered on the basis that the LEA and the sponsor will come forward with a proposal to help raise standards across the area with coherent provision across selective and non-selective schools in his constituency.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): I, too, welcome the involvement of Roger de Haan in local education in Thanet. Will the Minister assure me, however, that the proposal will not in any way be allowed to override his Department's duty to meet the needs of my constituents living in Cliftonville, Dane Valley and other areas of North Thanet, for whom the Ramsgate school might as well be on the moon?
Mr. Miliband: We are determined to do all that we can for all pupils in Kent. As the hon. Gentleman knows, funding has risen substantially in the area, which will lead to the provision of more teachers and more equipment. The academy initiative is designed to raise standards across the board.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): The Office for Standards in Education published a report in October 2001 entitled XManaging Support for the Attainment of Pupils from Minority Ethnic Groups", which included information on the impact and inclusion of refugee children in mainstream schools. Its main findings were that many needed extensive support to help them to acquire English, and some required additional home-school liaison and pastoral care support. Evidence exists, however, that once new bilingual learners overcome their lack of fluency in English, many go on to achieve high grades at school.
Alan Simpson : May I add my regrets at the forced departure of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills yesterday? It is a sad day for Parliament when someone of transparent honesty and integrity is required to stand down.
In respect of the education of refugee children, will the Minister bear in mind the overwhelming view of head teachers in my constituency who are the recipients of refugee children that they add enormously to the quality of education in schools? They have a hunger to learn and an enthusiasm to integrate, and that enthusiasm reflects the comments in the Department's joint document with the National Union of Teachers that
Mr. Twigg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I certainly agree with him. It is my experience that, once settled, refugee children play a positive part in many of our schools. I see that in my constituency.
The accommodation centres seek to deal with the turnover of new arrivals in schools. We are carefully considering our position following the vote in the other place, but we will seek to overturn the defeat that took place there. Nevertheless, there are great benefits from having in school children who have English as an additional language. Many of them do well and benefit the wider school community.
Does the Minister agree that, when refugee children or their parents have no command of English, the priority should be to provide individual tuition so that those children readily integrate into schools and their parents integrate into society?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Wakefield local education authority's educational development plan sets out the steps being taken to ensure best value in educational standards in the secondary schools in the Normanton constituency. In addition, the Ofsted inspection system also ensures that all LEAs and schools provide best value in educational standards.
Mr. O'Brien : Does my hon. Friend accept that, for more than two years, I have been pressing the Department to consider the quality of secondary school buildings in Normanton and, particularly, the quality of buildings at Freeston high school? Does he accept that those buildings are dangerous, with falling masonry, narrow corridors and a lack of natural light? Their general condition is appalling. I have requested funding to help to rebuild the Freeston high school, and have also asked Ministers to visit it. The previous Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), agreed at column 453 on 25 April 2002 to visit the school. He gave that assurance to me as the Member of Parliament for Normanton and to the House. Will the Minister agree to follow up the promise and arrange for a visit to the school, and will he make arrangements to ensure that this dangerous building is replaced?
Mr. Twigg: I am aware that my hon. Friend has made representations to my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards as well as to previous Ministers. I am happy to give an undertaking that we are prepared to meet representatives from his consistituency and, if possible, will arrange for one of the ministerial team to visit that secondary school.