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House of Commons

Thursday 2 December 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Enterprise Education

1. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): What plans he has to develop enterprise education. [201227]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Dr. Kim Howells): It is vital that we encourage young people to become more enterprising and to consider the possibility that with the right dedication and skills they could set up their own businesses. That is why, in September 2005, we will provide £60 million for enterprise education for all key stage 4 pupils. To help schools deliver that new entitlement, we have spent over £30 million on 195 Pathfinder projects involving more than 700 schools and funded an enterprise adviser service to help to prepare schools, especially in poorer areas, for that entitlement.

Mr. Blizzard: Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Lowestoft schools on winning the Enterprising Britain competition for the eastern region, and Hazel Johnson in particular on her dynamic leadership? With four enterprise advisers from his Department's Pathfinder project and another provided by Shell, enterprise education is inspiring young people in Lowestoft and bringing schools and business together, which we need if we are to regenerate the town. The funding, however, finishes this year, so will he study that success and maintain the funding by supporting the current schools bid to set up a community interest company in conjunction with another local company, Adnams?

Dr. Howells: I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising the work in Lowestoft, especially by Hazel Johnson. It has been a great achievement, and I am only too glad to look at the proposals from the town.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): One of the key components of enterprise education is a grasp of basic mathematics. Was it because the maths results in English schools in the programme for international student assessment
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2003 were so poor that the Government were happy to accept the decision by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to exclude the figures for England from the international comparisons, even though the participation rate of 64 per cent. was higher than the 56 per cent. participation rate for the USA, whose figures were included, and the 61 per cent. participation rate in PISA 2000, the figures for which were accepted by the OECD?

Dr. Howells: As I understand it, the OECD has been complimentary about the fact that primary schools in this country have the best ever mathematics results, and we should celebrate that. The hon. Gentleman is right that we still have a long way to go, but we are making genuine progress.

Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept the role of business education partnerships in promoting enterprise in schools? In my area, the Redbridge business education partnership does excellent work, and I have been pleased to support it over the years.

Dr. Howells: I am very much aware of the good work that my hon. Friend has done in and around Redbridge, and I am happy to endorse her point about business education partnerships, which are the way forward. Our hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) mentioned the involvement of Shell in Lowestoft, and the company is to be congratulated on showing the way forward. If we can inspire more young people through business education partnerships to consider setting up their own businesses, that will go a long way towards transforming the economy.

School Transport (Leicestershire)

2. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent representations he has received regarding the provision of school buses in Leicestershire. [201228]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): In addition to the valuable points made by my hon. Friend on Second Reading of the School Transport Bill, since August this year the Department has received one piece of correspondence on this issue.

David Taylor: Regular readers of the Leicester Mercury will know that our county has its share of overcrowding, antisocial behaviour and vandalism on school buses. Will the Minister ensure that the School Transport Bill, which was introduced in the House last week, includes measures to ensure that student journeys are free of danger, free of loutishness, free of damage and, most importantly, free of charge?

Mr. Twigg: I am not sure whether I can reassure my hon. Friend on his last point, but he is right to emphasise the importance of promoting positive behaviour on the school journey. We have said in the prospectus accompanying the Bill that the promotion of such behaviour is a necessary condition of any scheme by a pilot authority. More broadly, the promotion of
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positive behaviour on the school run is at the heart of the work that we are doing with our colleagues in the Department for Transport on travelling to school.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): Will not the people of Leicestershire be angry that school buses that are currently free could cost parents £200 per child under the School Transport Bill? Will not they see that as another third-term tax rise aimed at filling the Chancellor's black hole?

Mr. Twigg: I am sorry that in the Chamber the hon. Gentleman is not following the constructive path that he followed in Committee when we considered the School Transport Bill, which will return to the House soon. As he knows, one in 10 children currently benefit from free school transport. The purpose of the Bill is to enable local communities, if they want to, to try new ways of providing school transport to more children. I believe we should be worried about the many, not the few. Once again, the hon. Gentleman is concerned only with the few, not the many.

Teachers (Malicious Allegations)

3. Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): What steps he is taking to protect teachers from malicious allegations made against them by pupils. [201229]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): In November my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched a consultation on a new process for dealing with allegations against teachers and school staff. The consultation covers the reduction of time scales, new procedures to improve the management of cases and, significantly, advice by the Association of Chief Police Officers that anyone under investigation should not be named until they are charged with an offence.

Tony Cunningham: I am sure my hon. Friend would agree that there should be zero tolerance of abuse in the classroom. Equally, there must be zero tolerance of malicious complaints against teachers. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that complaints will be dealt with speedily, and that firm action will be taken against those who make malicious complaints?

Mr. Miliband: As a former teacher, my hon. Friend speaks with real knowledge of the matter. He is right that the trauma of abuse of trust and of unfounded allegations need to be tackled. I am pleased that about 70 pr cent. of all cases are currently dealt with within three months, but we want to raise that figure to 95 per cent. because speed is of the essence. I remind the House that the sanctions on false and malicious allegations are extremely serious, including charges of perjury and perverting the course of justice.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the most important consideration is to preserve the anonymity of those charged? He referred to that in his answer. Will he assure the House that from now onwards, any teacher who is charged will have his or her anonymity preserved until we know that that man or woman is guilty?
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Mr. Miliband: It is certainly our view that teachers should have their anonymity preserved until they are charged, if they are charged. I should point out that very few are charged; about 17 per cent. of all cases end in a prosecution. I am pleased that ACPO has issued new guidance to preserve anonymity. There is also the responsibility of the press in the matter. The Press Complaints Commission guidance is very clear about what those responsibilities are, and I would expect the press to follow that guidance.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Minister will know that it is not only in formal education that the poison of malicious allegations has been a terrible problem in recent years; it also occurs in informal education through the youth service. Will he ensure that the processes affecting teachers that he hopes to introduce in the next couple of years will also apply in the youth service?

Mr. Miliband: My hon. Friend raises a good point. When we speak of unfounded allegations and of anonymity, simply to speak of teachers is not sufficient, given the range of professionals who work with young people. The safeguards that we want for children and for staff should apply to all those who work with young people in and out of schools.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): Significantly, in Portcullis House there is a conference dealing with false allegations of abuse and what has happened in the courts over the years. We welcome the improvements and the commitment from police officers, but will the Minister consult his colleagues throughout Government so that legislation might be brought in to safeguard children and teachers? It is important that in the youth service at large, those who devote themselves to teaching can be protected, as well as those whom they teach.

Mr. Miliband: The House knows that the hon. Gentleman has a long and distinguished record in campaigning on these issues and bringing attention to them. I am happy to say that there is proper consultation right across the United Kingdom on the issue. It is important, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, that the Bichard inquiry referred to matters in this area, and we will respond to that shortly. I hope we will help to provide some of the reassurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (Con): What the Minister said about speeding up trials is welcome, and his remarks about the importance of preserving anonymity will also be welcomed by many teacher unions and their representatives. But he knows that they want more than simple guidance from ACPO and exhortations to the media from the Minister, so why will he not act on what the teacher unions have specifically requested: legislation to guarantee anonymity in those circumstances?

Mr. Miliband: The teacher unions have actually said that they want to see how the new ACPO guidance works, because this is an area where there are difficult issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris
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Bryant) referred to adults who do not have teaching status but work with young people none the less. We want to ensure that the guidance works, and I hope that we can count on the hon. Gentleman's support in ensuring that it does.

Mr. Collins: The Minister will know that we of course hope that guidance works, but he will also know that many teachers have been in extraordinary distress because their details have been published in the local media, placed there either by people in schools or by the police. He will know that a head teacher committed suicide this year in the Isle of Wight because his details were released in that way.

May I press the Minister again to say why he will not legislate? My party is committed to support legislation on this matter. We will support any legislation that this Government introduce. If they continue to refuse to introduce that legislation, we will introduce it in a teacher protection Bill in the first Queen's Speech of the next Conservative Government.

Mr. Miliband: It is very sad that the hon. Gentleman has sought to make a party political issue of this matter, but I cannot let it pass. His right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said that, under a Conservative Government:

I urge the hon. Gentleman to look at what his right hon. Friend is saying. This area requires careful application of the law and due diligence in every case. I think that the trauma both of abuse of trust and of abuse of teachers needs to be dealt with in a serious way by this House, and not in a posturing way.

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