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Mr. Allen: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that neither parents alone nor schools alone can tackle the problems of misbehaviour or of developing social behaviour? As I said, I carried out a consultation so that I could talk to all the primary heads in my constituency. One said to me, "You must understand, Mr. Allen, that there are two cultures. We can do a lot at school, but if little Johnny leaves school proudly carrying his painting and his mum says, 'Come here, you f . . . ing b . . . ', screws up the painting, throws it in the gutter and says, 'Don't bring that rubbish home from school', then all the excellent work in schools can be blown apart immediately because that child has to live in that environment for the rest of the day." Is it not essential that we unite both the home culture and the school culture?
Mr. Hoban: The hon. Gentleman yet again makes a very telling point. If the home is not engaged in improving children's behaviour, any improvement made at school will be short lived. However, given that some behavioural problems are deep-seated, cultural and part of the local community, a short programme does not necessarily work. Longer-term support is needed for the families concerned. We cannot expect money put in over one, two or three years to work that magic.
This has been an excellent, constructive debate. All hon. Members who have contributed have tried to address the issues in a fundamental and mature way. I thought in particular that the contribution of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) was on the whole constructive and helpful.
The specific issues that the hon. Gentleman raised included that of children with special needs, which rightly was the focus of much discussion today, because we do not give enough attention to this group of young people. Because of their needs, appropriate provision should be made for each and every child, and that provision will be different in different circumstances. That is certainly true of the integration of children with special needs into mainstream education. Having more adults in the classroom than we have had before and learning support unit provision will help to make integration easier than it has been historically.
But there must also be a continued important role for special schools. I have an excellent special school in my constituency: Elms Bank Community High special school. I am familiar with the Delamere school in the constituency of the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall). It is true that for many young people at this stage of educational development, and in terms of parental preference and choice, special schools still have an important role to play.
We should remember that there are some difficult issues to grapple with: parental priority, preference and choice are changing in this area. There is probably now a higher proportion of parents of young people with special needs than there were 20 years ago who, given a choice, want their children educated in a mainstream environment. We must take account of that, while recognising that the mainstream environment is not in all circumstances yet ready to give the holistic education that many of those young people need.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) mentioned specific concerns about a school in his constituency. While I am sympathetic to looking at the issue, it would be entirely inappropriate for a Minister in Westminster, and Whitehall, to second-guess the judgments made by the local decision makers. Indeed, the party of which the hon. Gentleman is a member wants maximum devolution to the front line, maximum local decision making and minimal interference from Westminster and Whitehall. It would be inappropriate for me to interfere in decisions that have been made about the best use of resources and most appropriate provision in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
Secondly, the Minister makes a point about local decision making. When decisions end up with an adjudicator who lives 200 or 300 miles from the school, I do not think he could describe that as local decision making.
Mr. Lewis: I remind the hon. Gentleman that I have repeated the assurance that was given when that measure was introduced. It is not a green light for wholesale changes or a one-size-fits-all approach to local provision and local need. It is for local decision makers to make their best judgment in consultation with those affected, including parents and, where appropriate, young people themselves. However, at this stage it is not for me to interfere with those decisions.
As was said in our debate, we use the term "special needs" generically. Ofsted is looking at the range of provisions for children with severe behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, and I believe that Members on both sides of the House will welcome that. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale rightly raised the issue of teachers' welfare and security. He will be interested to know that this term we have begun to work with the teaching unions on violence and fear of violence in the classroom. We are working in partnership with the unions with a view to proposing appropriate responses that make teachers feel safer. It is important to put on the record, however, the fact that there is no evidence of a significant increase in violent incidents. Serious injuries to staff as a result of violence have to be reported to the Health and Safety Executive, and figures from 199697 until the current year do not show a significant increase. It is important to give accurate information in our debates so as not to cause undue alarm.
We have increased significantly the resources available for school security, which individual schools have chosen to use in different ways. We have tightened up the exclusion appeal process, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), to make the interests of the entire school community as important as the interests of the individual pupil. We are trying to make sure that we avoid a situation in which appeal panels, in circumstances that are difficult to justify, overturn head teachers' decisions. There must always be a right of appeal, and the panel has to make the best possible judgment, but the criteria on which a judgment is made and the composition of the panel is important, as panel members must understand in the round the challenges faced by schools, particularly head teachers.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale raised the issue of male teaching recruits. That is important, as we want male role models in the classroom, particularly as many young people do not have male role models at home. We are experiencing difficulties, however, because although male recruitment is not generally a problem in secondary schools, it is in primary schools. The Teacher Training Agency is conducting a campaign to encourage more men to come into teaching, and there is some evidence of success, as male recruitment to primary education is 8.4 per cent.
On the whole, the contribution of the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) was reasonably constructive. However, may I point out that we need a clear evaluation of whether or not the Government are succeeding in their aim to improve behaviour and attendance? The Opposition choose to use statistics to claim that we are failing. Every hon. Member who has participated in our debate has acknowledged that the problems stem from intergenerational deprivation and underperformances, so there are no quick-fix solutions. However, in measuring performance, success rates and value for money, to which the hon. Member for Fareham referred, we must look at all the relevant factorsnot just truancy but attendance generally, behaviour and discipline.
It is important to put on the record the fact that school attendance is at a record high; the rate of unauthorised absence has gone down, albeit marginally; and children are truanting for shorter periods, with the relevant figures going down by 25 per cent. since 199697. I regard as a success the fact that permanent exclusions are 25 per cent. lower than they were when we entered government. For the first time, permanently excluded pupils have access to a full-time education; 10,000 learning mentors are working in schools; there are 90 multi-agency teams and 40 more in the pipeline; and 17,000 children at risk of exclusion, truancy or crime have key worker support. Police officers spend time working in schools, and we are also making sure that young people in every community deemed to be at risk of drifting into crime and antisocial behaviour are, for the first time, being given positive activities in the long school holiday.
As well as the teacher-stakeholder returns, we should, however, recognise that there is a long way to go in improving behaviour, discipline and attendance. In the round, significant progress has been made. Where behaviour improvement programmes are being implemented and where the attendance strategies that have been described are being put into effect, it is important to speak to the heads, teachers and learning mentors and ask them whether the extra resources have made a tangible difference to their capacity to do their job as they want to do it. They will tell hon. Members in all parts of the House that those extra resources have made a tremendous difference, particularly where heads have been given discretion about how to use them to maximum effect, as is the case in the behaviour improvement programme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North gave some examples of progress and innovative work in his constituency. He spoke of the environment in a school being quiet, peaceful and conducive to learning. That is extremely important and depends to a large extent on the quality of the leadership and the ethos in the school. Those who argue that it is purely about social factors and family issues overlook the fact that there are such different levels of success in managing attendance and discipline in different schools with similar socio-