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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.
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.
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
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.
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
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. 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.
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.
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 200506, 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.
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.