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Eastern Region Schools

7. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): What is the forecast spending by his Department on schools in the eastern region for 2002–03 to 2005–06. [81973]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): In 2002–03, education revenue funding in the eastern region totals approximately £2.8 billion. That includes standard spending assessment and grant. Capital funding in the region this year is over £351 million. Figures for general funding for next year and future years will be announced in December.

Mr. Blizzard : Few schools in my area have not benefited from substantial building improvements and more information technology provision to create a better learning environment that results from the Government's decision to invest heavily in education. However, does my hon. Friend agree that successful learning also requires good classroom discipline, which means dealing effectively with disruptive pupils, but not just by throwing them out on the street, where they create more trouble? Will he invest part of the substantial sums that he has mentioned in more pupil referral units and consider in particular areas of the country such as mine, where provision is virtually non-existent?

Mr. Lewis: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that it is important that we continue to give head teachers the right to exclude severely disruptive pupils. Alongside that, however, we take responsibility for ensuring that excluded pupils have access to high quality and full-time education, which is why the Government were delighted to honour their commitment that, in September,

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all permanently excluded pupils would have access to a full-time education. We have 369 pupil referral units nationally and 60 new units have opened since January 2002. We intend for more to be developed as part of a co-ordinated behaviour and discipline strategy.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Are Ministers aware that although Wymondham high school in my constituency is 39th of 39 in terms of funding in the county of Norfolk, it is first of 39 in terms of GCSE results, despite having 19 mobile classrooms housing a third of the student population? Are they further aware that if Wymondham high school received just average funding, it would have an extra £300,000?

The Minister for School Standards told me in a letter recently that he is unable to visit the school—I appreciate that South Shields is a long way from Norfolk—so will the Secretary of State visit Wymondham high school to see the excellent work being done by Mr. David Walker and his staff, as it is only five miles from the border of his constituency?

Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that the Secretary of State has visited the school and regards it as excellent. He is even prepared to visit it again.

Higher Education

8. Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): What assessment he has made of progress towards the Government's target of 50 per cent. of young people participating in higher education by 2010. [81974]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education (Margaret Hodge): Our latest estimate of participation in higher education in 2001–02 is 41.5 per cent. That could be revised upwards after the new census data are finalised and reflected. We need an increase of less than one percentage point each year to achieve our target.

Mr. Stunell : Since I tabled my question, the definition of the target has been changed yet again, for the fifth time. How long does the Minister expect the new target to be in place and can she explain how the House will ever know if it has been met?

Margaret Hodge: The simple answer is that the definition has not been changed and we are on course to meet our target.

John Cryer (Hornchurch): Will the introduction of top-up fees make hitting the target less or more likely?

Margaret Hodge: Everything we do in the student funding review will be focused on ensuring that we get more and wider participation in higher education so that we can meet our target to promote inclusion and economic growth.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given what the Minister told the hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer), will she guarantee that in no

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circumstances, as Government policy evolves, will anyone on or below average earnings be obliged to pay a top-up fee?

Margaret Hodge: Like others, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait until we publish our strategy document in January. I look forward to discussing with him then whether he has any better proposals to ensure that universities are properly funded and that all young people, whatever their backgrounds, have access to them.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): I thank my hon. Friend—indeed, I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his entire team—for their close personal interest in and support for my constituency, which contains fewer young people going to university that any other United Kingdom constituency. Is my hon. Friend aware that 30 local educationalists met last Friday to discuss the problem, and that we shall be sending her a report? Is she also aware that one of our key problems is a culture of under-achievement in which parents do not aspire for their children? Will she note the contents of the report, and will she consider visiting my constituency to discuss the future of our young people with local residents and with those educationalists?

Margaret Hodge: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he is doing in his constituency to raise aspirations among young people and to widen participation. I look forward to visiting his constituency and talking to those who have joined him in his attempt to deal with the culture that he has described. I recognise the difficult problem to which he refers—that if we cannot persuade more young people to aim higher and see university as an option for them and not just for others, we shall have failed. My hon. Friend has set himself a major challenge in his constituency, and I support his aims.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): What is the drop-out level in universities today, and what was it four years ago?

Margaret Hodge: I am proud to say that the level has been maintained at 17 per cent. I am proud that, of all countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, we have the best record for keeping people in the system and ensuring that they acquire qualifications and degrees. We are never satisfied or complacent with where we are at, but we are proud of our record. The hon. Gentleman should join me in congratulating universities and students on achieving what they set out to achieve.

Child Employment

10. Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): What recent assessment he has made of the impact of children's employment on their educational attainment. [81976]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): There has been no recent assessment of the impact that children's employment has on their educational attainment.

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We recognise, however, that properly structured and regulated part-time work can help children's development and preparation for working life.

Mr. Pond : May I urge my hon. Friend to undertake an assessment as a matter of some urgency? As he will know, evidence suggests that moderate hours of employment can be beneficial to school-leavers' performance, but that excessive hours can be damaging. Will he instruct the Office for Standards in Education to inform schools of the possible damaging of inappropriate or excessive working hours, and also ask it, when considering the performance of local education authorities, to take account of the resources that they invest in enforcing the law on children's employment as it stands?

Mr. Twigg: I am aware of my hon. Friend's long-standing interest in this matter, and I admire his balanced approach. I am not in a position to instruct Ofsted to do anything, and I am not sure that it is the right organisation to instruct; but I agree that serious problems have been identified in surveys by, for instance, the Trades Union Congress and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and I am happy to look into the matter further.

Education Funding

12. Ann Winterton (Congleton): If he will make a statement on future education funding in Cheshire. [81978]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Local Government and the Regions will be making a statement on local authority funding, including education funding for the coming financial year, in early December, along with the provisional settlement for 2003–04.

Ann Winterton : Does the Minister appreciate that it is totally unacceptable for a child in Cheshire to be worth £355 less than a child of similar age in Hertfordshire, a county with an equivalent cost base, given that Cheshire is one of the worst-funded shire counties in the United Kingdom? Does he accept that it would be fair to allocate the same basic allowance to each child, and that extra weighting given because of, for instance, special needs, or given to areas with specific problems, should be transparent?

Mr. Miliband: I can reassure the hon. Lady that I met some 200 heads from Cheshire at a conference in the north-west, who made a number of points about the funding system. A basic level of entitlement will apply to every child in the country, and the system for the allocation of additional educational needs that she asks about will indeed be transparent. It is based on independent survey work, which will ensure a proper scientific basis for the new funding system.

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