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Fair Trade Products

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills whether it is the policy of his Department to use fair trade products, as a matter of course, in (a) sales on Departmental premises and (b) receptions and meetings involving staff and visitors. [142817]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: Fair trade products are offered for sale in all Departments' head office buildings, restaurants and can also be supplied, on request, for meetings and receptions.

Fees (Repayment)

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what research the Learning and Skills Council is carrying out into (a) the level of and (b) repayment arrangements for fees in (i) post-16 education and (ii) further education colleges. [144650]

Alan Johnson: The research work carried out by the Learning and Skills Council is the Council's operational responsibility. Mark Haysom, the Council's Chief Executive, will write to the hon. Member providing the information requested and a copy of his reply will be placed in the Library.

Foundation Courses

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many places for students taking foundation degrees the Government are planning to fund in 2004/05. [143657]

Alan Johnson: The Higher Education Funding Council for England is in the process of allocating up to 10,000 additional full-time equivalent foundation degree places for the academic year 2004/05. Bidding closed on 3 December and the outcome will be announced in February 2004.

These places will be additional to any already in the system and planned for by individual institutions. The Higher Education Students Early Statistics survey (2002) data for the academic year 2002/03 showed 12,417 students (headcount—a mix of full and part-time) studying for a foundation degree. Early data on the numbers studying for a foundation degree in the current academic year will not be available until January 2004.

Outside specific Additional Number Exercises such at the current one, the Higher Education Funding Council for England does not normally plan the detailed funding of places. The number and type of places offered are a matter for the funded institution to determine within the resources available to them.

Free School Travel

Mr. Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the costs were of free school

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travel (a) to grammar schools, (b) to upper schools and (c) for children with disabilities in Buckinghamshire in (i) 2000, (ii) 2001 and (iii) 2003. [143536]

Mr. Charles Clarke [holding answer 11 December 2003]: This information is not held centrally.

Further Education

Mr. Mahmood: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what research his Department has carried out on the ability of (a) individuals and (b) employers to pay increased fees for further education courses. [143639]

Alan Johnson: We have little direct evidence about the impact of higher fees in further education (FE) on individuals' or employers' ability to pay. However, in a recent DfES study of adult learners in FE, 40 per cent. assessed themselves as "financially comfortable" and a further 38 per cent. as "not particularly struggling but don't have much to spare", 14 per cent. said they "found it quite hard to cope financially", and only 7 per cent. said they were "finding it very difficult to cope financially".

Dietary Advice

Mr. Willis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what measures his Department has taken to promote healthy eating in schools; and if he will list the funding commitment for each measure. [141784]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: The National Healthy Schools programme, jointly sponsored by Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the Department of Health (DoH), through funding of £5.7 million since 2000, promotes healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. The National Healthy School Standard (NHSS) promotes a whole school approach to health. Healthy eating is one of the eight themes of the NHSS. Schools demonstrate that the taught curriculum complements informed messages about healthy eating, for example, food on offer in vending machines and tuck shops. Schools will supply, promote and monitor healthier food at lunch and break times and in any breakfast clubs where they are provided. Over 14,000 schools are taking part in the healthy schools programme and over 8,000 schools are working 'intensively' to achieve the NHSS.

Additionally, we are: working with the Food Standards Agency and Ofsted to examine aspects of school meals and good practice in food and nutrition (DfES contribution—£330,000); working with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on promoting healthy lifestyles through greater engagement with growing and farming and local food procurement (in excess of £720,000 between March 2002—March 2004); providing a top up to the EU school milk subsidy scheme (£0.5 million annually from January 2001); on a range of other education, food and health interests on improving teaching and learning about healthy eating for pupils of all ages (exact figures not available, but in excess of £0.5 million).

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Learning and Skills Council

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will list the areas where the Learning and Skills Council is reviewing the provision of post-16 education. [144066]

Alan Johnson: Local Learning and Skills Councils are conducting Strategic Area Reviews of post-16 LSC-funded provision in all areas of England. These started in April 2003. Nine local LSCs have been Identified as pathfinders: Nottinghamshire; Bedford and Luton; Northumberland; Cheshire and Warrington; Berkshire; Bournemouth Dorset and Poole; Birmingham and Solihull; North Yorkshire; and a pathfinder involving all five local LSCs in the London region. They will undergo early evaluation and lessons learnt will be shared with local LSCs across the country.

Pupil Absences

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many half days have been lost owing to unauthorised absence of pupils in each year since 1997 (a) in absolute terms and (b) as a proportion of the total number of half days. [141895]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: The data for unauthorised absence, as requested, is shown in the following table.

Yearly unauthorised absence between 1997/98 -2002/03

Total possible sessions(a) Half days missed due to unauthorised absence(b) Percentageof half days missed
2002/03(12) 2,105,577,89314,846,0880.71

(12) Provisional

School Trips

Helen Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what guidance he has issued to schools and local education authorities on making parents aware of assistance available (a) to cover the cost of school trips and (b) to help provide school uniforms; and if he will make a statement. [143488]

Mr. Charles Clarke [holding answer 11 December 2003]: Detailed guidance for LEAs and schools on charging for school trips is contained in Circular 2/89. The same information is reproduced in the School Governors' Guides to the Law, which are revised and re-issued annually. In March 2003 we sent out a letter to all Chief Education Officers and Directors of Education explaining how remission of charges for school trips would work once child tax credits were introduced. This letter is posted on The Parent Centre website.

All LEAs and schools must have a charging policy in place, which is readily available to parents. In addition, when schools make charges, or request money, they must explain whether parents are being asked to pay for a specific activity or make a general contribution to school funds. Schools must also be clear whether or not contributions are voluntary.

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We do not provide guidance to LEAs on the assistance they may provide to parents on meeting the cost of school uniforms. LEAs may delegate this work to schools, but must ensure that all their schools adopt a consistent approach.

Student Loans

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) how much his Department spends each year on the cost of subsidising the student loan book; and what proportion of every pound loaned this represents; [143074]

Alan Johnson: The interest subsidy is calculated on the loans issued in year rather than the loans stock. Based on the loans issued during 2001–02, the cost per pound of the subsidy and administration costs was 42p. This is based on

No figures have yet been published for 2002–03. Information for that year will be contained in the 2002–03 resource accounts which will be published within the next month. The outstanding student loan stock at 31 March 2002 was £7,203,199,000; the closing balance of the interest subsidy provision was £1,593,670,000 and the Grant in Aid to the Student Loans Company was £27,650,000.

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how much of the money loaned to students by the Student Loans Company has been written off in each of the past ten financial years. [143648]

Alan Johnson: The table shows the total value of student loans in the UK and in public ownership which have been written off or cancelled in each financial year.

£ million

Financial yearAmount written off or cancelled(13),(14),(15)
1998–99 of which:0.9
Income Contingent Loans(16)
1999–2000(17)of which:1.2
Income Contingent Loans(18)
2000–01 of which:1.1
Income Contingent Loans0.2
2001–02 (provisional) of which:1.4
Income Contingent Loans0.4
2002–03 (provisional) of which:2.6
Income Contingent Loans0.7

(13) The table shows the value of loans cancelled or written off during each financial year.

(14) Two portfolios of student loans to the value of just over £2 billion have been sold to the private sector in March 1998 and March 1999. The figures in the table relate to the public debt only.

(15) A cancelled loan is one where the borrower no longer has any liability to repay as set out by legislation. A borrower's liability to repay a mortgage style loan shall be cancelled: on death of the borrower; after 25 years or when the borrower reaches the age of 50 (60 if the borrower was aged over 40 when he/she last borrowed), whichever is the earlier, provided the borrower is not in arrears of any loan agreement; and if the borrower is in receipt of a disability related benefit and permanently unfit for work. Income contingent loans are cancelled because of death or permanent disability in the same way, but are cancelled on the grounds of age when the borrower reaches the age of 65. A written off loan is one where the borrower remains liable to repay but recovery is deemed unlikely by the loan administrator or not possible by legal judgment.

(16) Not available.

(17) Amounts written off in 1999–2000 include some transactions which relate to the previous financial year.

(18) Nil/negligible.

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The amount written off or cancelled may relate to loans advanced in any of the previous financial years. Therefore data cannot be expressed as a proportion of amount lent.

In addition to the amount shown in the table, £0.5 million was written off under the Repayment of Teacher Loans scheme in respect of accounts in public ownership in financial year 2002–03.

The introduction of the income contingent loan based system of student support from 1998–99 meant that the amount of student loans paid out each year has increased. The amount of loan advanced in 1993–94 was £292.3 million (all mortgage style); in 2002–03 it was £2,618.0 million (of which £2,599.2 million was income contingent loans). A consequence of this increase is a higher level of write-off or cancellation.

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