Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Grammar School Ballots

3. Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the cost of a grammar school ballot. [141758]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): The cost of a ballot will depend on the particular circumstances in the area in which it takes place.

Mr. Djanogly : At a time when the Government are supposedly supporting diversity in the types of school on offer and in the specialisations that schools can

4 Dec 2003 : Column 633

provide, why are they still fixated on attacking grammar schools and wasting time and money through their failing ballot system?

Mr. Miliband: It is Conservative Front and Back Benchers who are fixated on the 4.5 per cent. of schools in the country that are grammar schools. We are fixated on raising standards in all schools.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): When the Minister is considering ballots for grammar schools, will he look again at the experience of Milton Keynes in the 1990s, when the Tory-controlled Buckinghamshire county council forced us to go through three successive ballots to try to persuade people to vote for grammar schools, which I am happy to say they did not? Does not that demonstrate the Tory party's continuing obsession with trying to concentrate resources on a small number of children instead of using them across the piece to bring up educational achievement, particularly for low achievers?

Mr. Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are committed to ensuring that there is no extension of the 11-plus. Final decisions on school organisation, including grammar schools, are a matter for local people.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Could we have ballots for new grammar schools?

Mr. Miliband: The hon. Gentleman was here in 1998 when the House debated the School Standards and Framework Bill, which specifically excluded debate on new grammar schools. [Interruption.] I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon: I am told that he was not here. But some of my hon. Friends were, and the House made it absolutely clear that we want no extension of selection at age 11. If the hon. Gentleman's party wants to make that the battleground for the next general election, it is very welcome to do so.

Apprentice Footballers

4. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): What changes he plans to make in training provision for apprentice footballers. [141759]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): SkillsActive, the sector skills council for active leisure and learning, and the Learning and Skills Council are developing a modern apprenticeship framework in sporting excellence, which includes football. It is focused on aspiring professional athletes; it will cover their needs as sporting professionals, support their long-term career needs once their sporting career ends and offer a safety net for those athletes who are unsuccessful.

Ms Walley: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Much as we would like every trainee footballer to become a Stanley Matthews, David Beckham or Wayne Rooney, something like 85 per cent. of trainee footballers fall out of the game over three to four years. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will meet again with the Professional Footballers Association to

4 Dec 2003 : Column 634

make sure that the two-year apprenticeship scheme proposed by the Learning and Skills Council will meet all the academic needs of footballers? We need to make sure that those who do not make it are able to pursue education and training for other careers, which may not be in football or even in sport.

Mr. Lewis: As a Manchester City supporter, I do not want young people to aspire to be David Beckham, but I am aware of the concerns expressed by some in football at the proposed changes and the timetable for implementation. Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I met representatives of the Professional Footballers Association and the chief executive of SkillsActive. I have asked them to convene a further meeting with representatives of football, including the premier league, to discuss the best way forward. It is essential that every effort be made to ensure that the new modern apprenticeship properly meets the needs of young people embarking on a career in the professional game. This issue is of equal importance to big clubs such as Manchester City and to smaller clubs such as Port Vale and Norwich City.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Bearing in mind the considerable wealth that some of these young footballers could earn in later life, should they not pay top-up fees?

Mr. Lewis: The main thing about the ability of young people to enter football as a career is the fact that they pay no up-front fees at all.

School Funding (Norfolk)

5. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he will next meet Norfolk local education authority to discuss school budgets. [141760]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): My right hon. Friend has no plans to meet Norfolk local education authority to discuss school funding. Measures to restore stability and certainty to school funding were announced on 29 October and will provide a guaranteed minimum increase in every school's per pupil funding, additional resources at LEA level, which can be targeted at schools with additional pressures, and a package of transitional support, including grant of £5.3 million for Norfolk LEA that can be targeted at those schools facing the greatest difficulty in bringing their budgets back into balance.

Mr. Bellingham : Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State was assuring Norfolk schools this time last year that all of them would have a reasonable increase in their budget in line with inflation? As he is well aware, events turned out differently, and many schools in my constituency suffered their worst budget in living memory. Beacon schools such as St. Edmundsbury, Reffley and Fairstead had cuts of up to

4 Dec 2003 : Column 635

£100,000 and had either to raid their capital reserve or to get rid of staff. The Secretary of State is saying exactly what he said last year. Can we trust him?

Mr. Twigg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of the events of the past year. We have tried to learn lessons from those events. I should like to quote Alec Byrne, a Conservative member of Norfolk county council and cabinet member for education, who said:

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (Con): If the Secretary of State should change his view about meeting Norfolk LEA, will he and the Minister address themselves not only to the overall level of budgets but to the fairness of allocation, especially to rural areas? My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) has received a letter in the past week from the head teacher of Sheringham high school in Norfolk saying that it will have to sack two and a half teachers next year because of the new funding settlement. In my constituency, as in many other rural constituencies represented by hon. Members on both sides of the House, schools, such as Settlebeck school, are for the first time ever having to go cap in hand to parents to ask for money for school books. When will the Government be fair in allocating resources to rural areas?

Mr. Twigg: We seek to be fair to all areas, including rural areas. If representatives from Norfolk LEA request a meeting with my right hon. Friend, he will be more than happy to meet them. I am astonished at the hon. Gentleman's comments, given the situation in his area. In Cumbria, per pupil spending on education has increased since 1997 by £960.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What about Norfolk?

Mr. Twigg: The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) referred to Cumbria in his question. I am happy to talk about Norfolk, and to remind the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) of the positive response from the Conservative council there. I only wish that we had the same honest response from Conservative Members in this House.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): May I just say that Alec Byrne is a very sound man? Last week, I sat on a platform with him talking about the council tax—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could put question 6.

Schools (Private Finance Initiative)

6. Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): If he will make a statement about the use of the private finance initiative in the redevelopment of schools. [141761]

4 Dec 2003 : Column 636

The Minister for Children (Margaret Hodge): The use of the private finance initiative in schools has been a popular and successful programme. It has been popular in that more than 100 of the 150 local education authorities in England have applied to take part, and it has been successful in that we have progressed from one contract covering one school in 1997 to 64 contracts covering 600 schools today. Services have started under 39 of those contracts, and they represent a private sector capital investment of more than £1.7 billion.

Mr. Bacon: The Secretary of State has talked about a transfer system for capital allocation grants for schools. Hobart high school in south Norfolk, a very fine school, which the Secretary of State and I visited together to look at the classroom of the future, would willingly forgo its capital grant allocation for several years if it could get a relatively small sum to finish off the work going on under the private finance initiative so that it could properly meet all its students' needs. Do Ministers agree that there is room for more flexibility in the way capital allocation occurs in the period after a PFI contract has been let? The Secretary of State suggested that he would look at that matter. Will Ministers keep it under review, especially as the sums involved may be quite small? That could make all the difference to the schools involved.

Margaret Hodge: The PFI contract for Norfolk has been particularly complex but innovative, because we have been trying to provide capital infrastructure and services in a wide range of rural schools. I think that it is the first project of that kind, and there have, to that extent, been problems with it. However, on what the hon. Gentleman asks for in relation to Hobart high school, we are looking at the situation there, and I agree entirely that we need to be flexible in how we administer that PFI contract to ensure that we get value and spread the benefits to as many schools as we can in Norfolk.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab): Will the Minister congratulate Tameside council and Alder high school on their new building, which has been built on budget and on time and has transformed applications to that school? It was significantly under-subscribed and now it is significantly over-subscribed. Given that record of achievement, will she look seriously at Tameside's bid for a wide range of investment in six or seven new schools in the constituency?

Margaret Hodge: I congratulate Tameside council. Indeed, I congratulate all the councils that are engaged in the PFI programme. Without it, we would not have been able to achieve the level of capital investment in our schools that we have. We inherited a legacy of £750 million being invested in schools. By 2005–06, the figure will be over £5 billion. That is partly due to the PFI element. Of course, we will consider the bid from Tameside, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that that bid has to be considered alongside many other bids by people anxious to participate in the programme.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): I represent a constituency with several PFI schools. There is satisfaction that schools have been built on budget and

4 Dec 2003 : Column 637

on time, but there is growing alarm among head teachers at the amount of time that they have to devote to negotiating the minutiae of things such as telephone charges and who is responsible for erecting shelves in school libraries. However, can the Minister clarify one point in particular? When there is a dispute between a school and a PFI landlord about the priority to be given to the safety of children over such things as gates, who is responsible—the landlord or the school?

Margaret Hodge: I will look in detail at issues that the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise with me. Clearly, the safety of children must be paramount, and that should be built into the terms of the contract as they are specified. If there is a problem with a particular contract in his constituency, he should draw it to our attention. We will certainly examine it.

Clearly, the skills of negotiating contracts are new for head teachers and others engaged in PFIs, but I hear from many head teachers that they feel relieved at not having to get involved in the day-to-day running of things such as changing light bulbs or making sure that clocks are synchronised in classrooms. That enables them to focus much more of their time on what they are there for, which is raising standards in the classroom.

Next Section

IndexHome Page