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Modern Languages

7. Tony Cunningham (Workington): What recent steps he has taken to improve the teaching of modern languages in schools. [95750]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): The national languages strategy sets out a key objective of improving the teaching and learning of languages, particularly in secondary schools but also in primary schools. We want language learning to be available and exciting, and we are developing the key stage 3 strategy to achieve that goal.

Tony Cunningham : My hon. Friend will be aware that I have some superb specialist schools in my constituency. I hope that, in the near future, I will have quite a few more. What role does the Minister see for specialist schools in improving language teaching in our secondary schools?

Mr. Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point. There are now 157 language colleges around the

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country. They are centres of excellence for the teaching of languages. I hope that the excellent practice that they develop can be spread out across the system.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Is the Minister aware of a school in my constituency where a pupil was permanently excluded for breaking into a language class and doing £2,000 of damage? That obviously had a profound impact on the teaching of languages in the school. The governor supported the exclusion but unfortunately, on appeal, it was overturned. Will the Minister consider this particular case if I write to him? Does he not agree that head teachers, chairmen and governors should not have their power to exclude overruled by an appeal panel?

Mr. Miliband rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister should not answer that question.

Education (Stockport)

8. Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport): What representations he has received about the increased spending on education in Stockport. [95751]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Since the provisional settlement for 2003–04 was announced on 5 December, we have received no representations about the increased spending on education in Stockport. In 2003–04, Stockport's education formula spending share is increasing by 6.1 per cent. on a per pupil basis. After taking account of pupil number changes, the increase in its education assessment is 7.2 per cent. Both figures are above the national average.

Ms Coffey : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. As he says, it is a very good settlement. He may recall that, in a letter sent to his Department in September last year signed by the leader of the council and local Members of Parliament, Stockport asked for a specific grant of £1 million, because Ofsted had identified the funding available to the authority as very poor and insufficient to provide effective support to schools. Does he therefore share my astonishment that the Liberal Democrat council is proposing to passport only a small proportion of the £1.3 million increase in the local education authority block grant? Will he make it clear to the council that that money was given by the Government to meet educational need in the borough and should be spent on education?

Mr. Twigg: All of us are used to the fact that the Liberal Democrats will say one thing in this place and do something very different at the local level. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the hard work that she undertook with her local authority to secure such a good settlement. It would be a great pity if the extra money

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that is going to education in Stockport were not fully spent, so that full support can be given to schools as the local council asked for.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Stockport is a long way from the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

A2 and AS-levels

9. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): What steps he has taken to ascertain whether the necessary re-marking of A2 and AS-level scripts from last summer's examinations has been completed. [95752]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): Following the investigation into the setting of the 2002 grade boundaries, the outcome of Mike Tomlinson's regrading exercise was announced on 15 October. I understand that the awarding bodies are due to complete appeals from schools and colleges against the grades for individual candidates by 14 March. If the head of the examination centre is dissatisfied once the awarding body appeals procedures have been exhausted, he or she may appeal to the Examinations Appeals Board on the candidate's behalf.

Mr. Luff : The date of 14 March is just too late. I know of a case in Worcestershire in which the re-marking last summer of two specimen papers revealed that a much larger group of pupils had had their AS-level grades significantly depressed, and wrongly so. However, despite forceful requests from the school, the board has still not completed that re-marking. I do not believe that this case is unique, and the Minister's comments suggest that it is not unique. Does he understand that this understating of achievement, as a result of either the attempt to manipulate grades to meet political objectives or of simple incompetence, has had a serious impact on the applications of the young people involved to the universities of their choice? That could seriously damage their future careers.

Mr. Miliband: I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that this was a very serious issue last summer. We take it extremely seriously. The deadline of 14 March is one month later than the deadline that has existed in every previous year, and it reflects the problems that existed last August and September. Notwithstanding that, I think that he will find that awarding bodies are making strenuous efforts to ensure that the grades are right for every individual pupil.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister wrote to me a few days ago confirming that there are remaining concerns about the standards of marking of the OCR scripts in certain subjects, namely English literature, history and psychology. That potentially affects 25,000 exam entries. Will he accept that it is unacceptable that, six months later, thousands of students do not know whether the marking of their exams was accurate? Will he now make a statement on

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the inquiry being mounted by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and on what he expects it to uncover?

Mr. Miliband: It is important that I put on record the facts of the matter. I have written two recent letters to the hon. Gentleman. One concerned scripts in OCR psychology examinations. The letter was about a particular subject that affected a school in the constituency of a Conservative Member who is not present at the moment. Both he and the hon. Gentleman have asked me about that.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me when the scripts for all subjects would be destroyed, and I explained to him in the second letter that, in the three subjects that he mentioned, all the scripts would be kept for the moment. The grades in those subjects are not somehow dubious or under review, but the scripts are being kept in case further questions are raised about them in the future. The results are not dubious. I suggest that he joins the consensus, stretching from the Secondary Heads Association to the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, that Mike Tomlinson's inquiry has given a clear guarantee to students that their grades are correct. The hon. Gentleman should join that consensus and not seek to undermine it.

Specialist Colleges

10. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): If he will make a statement on the private funds required for a specialist college bid to proceed. [95753]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): Sponsorship continues to be an important element of the specialist schools programme. Applicant specialist schools must raise £50,000 in sponsorship from the private sector. An applicant specialist school's involvement in raising sponsorship will help them develop valuable relationships. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a new partnership fund announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a few weeks ago will help bridge the sponsorship gap for schools in areas of economic disadvantage.

Andrew Selous : I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he consider the introduction of much more flexibility in the requirement for schools to raise £50,000 of funds? He will understand that it is extremely dispiriting for a school that is perhaps only a few thousand pounds short of that target to face the prospect of losing a £500,000 grant, as was the case with Vandyke upper school in my constituency. Will he consider extending the time scale within which the school would have to raise that £50,000 during the first four years of funding?

Mr. Miliband: The hon. Gentleman will know that two schools in his constituency have managed to raise sufficient funds: Northfields upper school, and Queensbury school, both of which are in Dunstable. The flexibility for which he asks was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State: that is precisely the purpose of the partnership fund when the school has real problems in raising sponsorship, whether because of economic disadvantage or because other schools have

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reached companies in that area first. We will give serious consideration to those matters. The flexibility for which he asks is now in the system.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Will my hon. Friend consider the use of private funds and sponsorship to ensure that people are placed in work placements in the middle of their degree course? Given concerns about the separation between the worlds of work and education, that is one way to unite the two. In addition, given concerns about top-up fees and debt, it is one way in which an individual can pay off debt and enjoy work experience while undertaking their degree.

Mr. Miliband: My hon. Friend tempts me to venture into areas that are somewhat beyond my immediate responsibility. The sort of liaison and linkage to which he refers between schools, colleges and workplaces is at the centre of our 14 to 19 strategy, and all those links will be supported by Members across the House, as they are in the interests of young people and the country.

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