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28 Nov 2002 : Column 443—continued

Classroom Assistants

3. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): How many classroom assistants are employed in (a) the west midlands and (b) England. [81969]

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The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): The full-time equivalent number of support staff in maintained schools in the west midlands in January 2002 was 23,082. That includes more than 11,000 teaching assistants, more than 5,000 administrative staff, 1,775 technicians and nearly 5,000 other staff.

Mr. Cunningham : What proposals does my hon. Friend have for career development for classroom assistants? Is he happy with their salary levels, which I believe are minimum wage?

Mr. Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point. There are 80,000 more classroom assistants than there were five or six years ago. I had the pleasure of seeing, in Liverpool, a pioneering scheme to create a career path to allow teaching assistants to become classroom teachers. Classroom assistants' pay is a matter for local authorities and is determined locally. I know from my area that pay varies throughout the country, but I have not heard that assistants are on the minimum wage.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West): Is my hon. Friend aware that the continued heavy investment in education which the Chancellor confirmed in his pre-Budget report yesterday is leading to good results in the numbers of classroom assistants and teachers? Is he aware that in my constituency, for example, Limbrick Wood primary school, which only three years ago was in special measures, has now made a remarkable turnaround and is achieving results above national average at key stage 2? Will he find an early opportunity to visit the school, where he will be most welcome, as in Coventry generally?

Mr. Miliband: That is a very tempting offer. I was in Coventry two weeks ago, and am sorry to have missed that opportunity. I am happy to congratulate Limbrick Wood primary school on its outstanding achievement. My hon. Friend will know that in 1997, about 560 schools were in special measures, but that number has now about halved. I look forward to taking in Limbrick Wood primary school on a future visit to the region.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): As an ex-head teacher, I greatly valued the classroom assistants who worked for me for a number of years. What does the Minister mean by high-level teaching assistants? If he means classroom assistants teaching formally, does he not agree that that destroys the ideal of a full graduate profession, for which we fought for many years when I was a very young man just starting teaching?

Mr. Miliband: I am sure that the young man on the Back Benches agrees that high-level teaching assistants such as language specialists, laboratory technicians and music specialists who come into classes can make a genuine contribution to the learning of young people. It is important to point out that all classroom assistants work under the direction of qualified teachers. Teaching remains a graduate profession, but those graduates will be in charge of a wider range of support staff,

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from secretaries right up to high-level teaching assistants. That reinforces teacher professionalism, and is certainly not a threat to it.

Further and Higher Education

4. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East): What steps he is taking to widen participation in further and higher education. [81970]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education (Margaret Hodge): Extending opportunity in both further and higher education is central to our aims. We announced the most ambitious programme ever for further education last week—a £1.2 billion expansion. Our excellence challenge programme for higher education is already encouraging wider participation and the strategy that we will publish in January will take that forward.

Paul Goggins : I thank my hon. Friend for her answer, but does she agree that a principal barrier to wider participation, particularly in further education, is the fact that far too many parents at home and people at work simply cannot read, write and add up adequately? What targets have the Government set to improve adult literacy and numeracy?

Margaret Hodge: I fully agree that it is an indictment of us all that 7 million adults do not have the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to prosper in society and employment. We have set an ambitious target of 1.5 million achieving those basic skills by 2007, and I am proud that in the past 12 months, 250,000 have gained the required qualifications.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): The Minister will recognise that, historically, further education has been a Cinderella subject, particularly in the present debate about higher education. In the City of Westminster in my constituency, we have a thriving further education college which I recently visited. One of the main problems there is funding for English as a supplementary language. Does the Minister have any thoughts about how we can ensure that from all the debate about funding further and higher education there emerges a ring-fenced fund to that end?

Margaret Hodge: We are extremely proud of the fact that we have been able to put a 19 per cent. real-terms increase into funding for further education colleges over the next three years. That will bring them back to the centre by providing them with the resources to deliver wider participation and higher standards. The issue of funding English as a foreign language is critical to building community cohesion among the many people who are joining us in this country. Our difficulty is finding enough teachers, but we are working on that.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): I wholly welcome my hon. Friend's statement about extra money going into further education. Does she agree that widening participation in further and higher education is crucial to areas like mine, which is in economic regeneration, particularly for people who have lost out at the age of 18 and discovered their motivation in their

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twenties and thirties? Will she therefore ensure that in their review of funding for higher education in particular, the Government will do nothing to damage widening participation?

Margaret Hodge: I share my right hon. Friend's passion for widening participation in both further and higher education. My constituency is not unlike his—participation in post-16 education, both further education and higher education, is far lower than I would like. I can give my right hon. Friend an assurance that ensuring that young people, whatever their background, have access to further and higher education is central to our work.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): Given the continuing fiasco of the Department's handling of individual learning accounts, it is not surprising that the Chancellor of the Exchequer took it upon himself yesterday to announce yet another new target in that area, this time an increase to 90 per cent. post-16 participation in education and training. Given that it is almost as easy for any Minister to announce a new target as it is to miss an old one, will this particular Education and Skills Minister commit herself to resign if the new target is missed?

Margaret Hodge: I will resign as and when I think that I have acted inappropriately. Sadly for the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that that stage has yet been reached. The target announced by the Chancellor yesterday was a much better target because, for the first time, we have brought together into one target the vocational and the academic education of young people from the age of 16, to achieve a seamless progression. The purpose is to ensure that we deal with the very poor staying-on rates of young people at 16—one of the legacies that we inherited from the hon. Gentleman when he was a Minister with responsibility in that area, which is one of the areas that we intend to put right.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Given that the new target focuses on young people in traditional academic disciplines as well as in modern apprenticeships and craft disciplines, how can we interest young people in the opportunities that exist in further education and training for craft skills and modern apprenticeships, which the economy needs and in which they need qualifications?

Margaret Hodge: I hope that a number of the initiatives we are taking will support that objective, which I share with my hon. Friend. The educational maintenance allowances that we piloted have shown an encouraging increase in the number of young people choosing to participate, in the pilot areas. The reforms that we shall bring forward in the 14-to-19 curriculum will introduce new pathways into vocational education alongside more general education, which again will encourage more young people into that. The taskforce that we established yesterday, which will be led by people in the field—those who require the apprenticeships—will bring more understanding of the problems, so that we can reach the objective that my hon. Friend and I share.

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Secondary Schools

5. Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): What the funding per head is in secondary schools in (a) Leicestershire and (b) England and Wales. [81971]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): In 2002–03 Leicestershire's funding per pupil in secondary schools is £3,390. The average for schools in England is £3,850.

Mr. Tredinnick : Is it not a fact that, like the Government's overdraft, which is getting worse, the amount of money available to children in Leicestershire under the current arrangements is getting worse? Whereas it used to be 10 per cent., current projections—I have checked the figures with the Library—make it look as though it will be 11 per cent. next year, which is the worst it has ever been in the county and certainly worse than it was under the Conservative Administration. Has not the time come to adopt option 5 in the proposals, which would stop the arrangement whereby additional educational needs are made the top priority, and would put more money and more emphasis on the basic allowance per pupil? That would be a much fairer system. What does the Minister propose to do about it?

Mr. Miliband: I am sure the hon. Gentleman would want to congratulate the Government on increasing the standard spending assessment in Leicestershire by £18 million in the past year. I take seriously his concerns about the consultation that is currently under way and on which my right hon. Friend will make announcements in December. We take seriously all the representations that we have had from Leicestershire and elsewhere about the reforms to the system, and the hon. Gentleman will have to wait a little longer to find out our conclusions. However, I can tell him that the basic entitlement will remain the largest element of the school funding formula. That is an important part of any system.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): Along with all parents, I, as a governor of a Leicestershire school, welcome the increased expenditure that we have had since 1997, compared with the cuts in the preceding five years. Does my hon. Friend understand the frustration that parents will feel if the announcement that is made in the next couple of weeks does not substantially reduce the gap between the highest and the lowest funded education authorities in the country? Leicestershire is currently in the latter group. Even at this late stage, will my hon. Friend make a last-minute plea to ensure that the positive message that comes out is that we are addressing the enormous gap that exists, and that there is a bright future for Leicestershire schools, which will benefit from increased spending in the next few years?

Mr. Miliband: I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate advocate for schools in his constituency. I assure him that a floor will be included in the new formula to ensure that there are no losers in the system, contrary to some of the disinformation that has been

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circulated. We are taking seriously the representations that have been made throughout the country and will make our proposals in due course.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): Will the Minister explain why, in determining the new formula for Leicestershire and other English and Welsh local education authorities, he has ignored the advice of the LEAs themselves, head teacher associations, governors and managers associations, Ofsted and the Audit Commission, in rejecting activity-led funding? After 18 months of deliberations by all those organisations, why has he simply said, XI'm not having any of it"? Will he explain that?

Mr. Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is referring to the work of the education funding strategy group, which has made an invaluable contribution to the development of the proposals that have been made. His particular allegation relates to something called activity-led funding—the suggestion that we should make assumptions in Whitehall about how head teachers should deploy their resources in every school throughout the country. I do not think that that would be appropriate. What we are proposing is a simpler and fairer system that puts power in the hands of the head teachers. It will ensure that there is a clear basis on which every pupil is funded. At the moment, the system is based on historic funding levels and a 1991 census. That is no way to go forward, and he will see that our proposals live up to that aspiration.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that blunt figures of the sort that he announced for Leicestershire understate the fact that delivery of the service is wildly more expensive in some areas than others? To give one example, an office in Hemel Hempstead costs three times as much as one in Glasgow. Will he therefore bear in mind the fact that figures on disposable income and the quality of service that can be delivered for the money are the most important ones on which he should be concentrating?

Mr. Miliband: I am relieved to say that I am not responsible for the funding of education in Glasgow, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the new system will be based on three very clear principles: every pupil will have a basic entitlement; there will be a recognition of any additional educational needs for every pupil; and for different parts of the country, there will be a recognition of extra costs. That will be a simple system that everyone can understand and in which people can see how the money is being passed from us down to the schools.

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