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Employer Training Pilots

4. Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the national employer training pilots. [201230]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): An evaluation of the initial six pilots published in November 2003 showed a high level of employer satisfaction with particular value being placed on the flexible and responsive delivery of training in the workplace.

Mr. Simon: I thank the Minister for that answer, and I invite him to join me in commending the Birmingham and Solihull employer training pilot, one of the six initial pilots and, I think, one of the most successful; thousands of people employed by hundreds of employers were trained. Training for small businesses in particular can be a problem and a drain, and it is really difficult. What else will the Government continue to do to help?

Mr. Lewis: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his support for the pilots in the Birmingham and Solihull area, which are among the best in the country, as he would expect me to say at the Dispatch Box. The pilots are demonstrating a number of elements in terms of attracting employers and small and medium-sized enterprises in particular to invest in training. We are
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reaching employers who would have been reluctant to train in the past and getting to employees who lack basic skills or level 2 qualifications and who would not feel able in ordinary circumstances to go back to education. We are removing the bureaucracy and complexity of accessing training, particularly for small businesses. We are also bringing employers and trade unions together at the workplace to improve employment relations. We see that approach to encouraging employers to invest in the training of their work forces as central to a future demand-led training system.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): We are generally supportive of the pilots and work-based training, but there is huge confusion among employers and in the further education sector about the future. Now that the windfall levy, which paid for most of the initial work, has gone, will the Minister confirm that future funding will come out of Learning and Skills Council adult budgets? What proportion of the learning and skills budget will be devoted to the national employer training programme, and what effect will that have on FE budgets? Finally, on the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), what compensation package has the Minister agreed with the Chancellor to support small employers in particular in releasing people for training?

Mr. Lewis: First, I think that the hon. Gentleman's party opposed the windfall levy, and we would not have had the employer training pilots if that policy had been followed. I thank him, however, for his genuine support of the principles underpinning the employer training pilots. On his substantive points, there are two issues. First, it has always been part of our vision that we need to re-engineer some of the existing money that we spend on training through the Learning and Skills Council, and move that money from the classroom to the workplace. As for the implications for colleges of further education, what we are seeing in the pilots is that many entrepreneurial colleges are now doing outreach work, going into workplaces, engaging with employers and providing the training in a customised, tailor-made way that meets the needs of the employer and the employee. I believe that further education has nothing to fear from the employer training programme. As for the final part of my answer, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait with bated breath for the statement on the pre-Budget report, which I think is about an hour away.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): I urge the Minister to go further, and implore him to ensure that there is plenty of training in schools. Sometimes young people miss a golden opportunity because they come to training late. I urge him to ensure that people go into not only further education colleges, but the classroom, so that we can get the right people in the skilled work force of the future.

Mr. Lewis: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. All these policies bring the worlds of work and school closer together: specialist status for secondary schools; the new vocational pathways that we are developing; the flexible partnerships by which young people spend two days a week at school, two days a week at college and a day with local employers; enterprise education, which has
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become a mainstream part of the curriculum; and the new 14 to 16 young apprenticeship. In the future, we want a dynamic, day-by-day relationship that ensures that the choices that young people make about their curriculum are linked to the labour market and are based on authentic, real life contact with the world of work.

Sure Start

5. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment she has made of the effects of Sure Start programmes on speech and language development. [201231]

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Margaret Hodge): The initial findings from the national evaluation of Sure Start's effect on children's speech and language development will be available in summer 2005. We know from individual Sure Start local programmes that the early support is having a positive impact. In one of the Stockport Sure Starts, for example, the number of children in reception classes with identified speech and language needs fell in successive years from 31 per cent. to 14 per cent. to 11 per cent. We also know from the comprehensive survey of more than 3,000 children published last week that two years of high-quality pre-school education boosts children's results at key stage 1 by four to six months.

Linda Gilroy: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response and for her work to ensure that children in the Keystone Sure Start in my constituency get a better start in life. What is she doing to ensure that children in other disadvantaged areas get such a good start and to mainstream the lessons learned from the Sure Start programmes?

Margaret Hodge: We are committed to mainstreaming all those Sure Start policies and programmes right across the country in every community. That is precisely why we have announced that we will develop 2,500 Sure Start children's centres by 2008. My hon. Friend must wait until after the pre-Budget report to see what further progress we can make in providing that revolution in children's services.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend knows that the Education and Skills Committee has taken evidence showing what a good investment early years intervention is. Will she examine the evidence that we received from the Social Market Foundation on Monday this week, which suggests that some Sure Start programmes are much more effective than others? Will she examine that evidence and make sure that good practice is spread as rapidly as possible, because the money should be spent wisely and effectively?

Margaret Hodge: My hon. Friend makes a good point. In the early days of evolving the Sure Start programmes, we enabled local Sure Start programmes to develop at their own pace and with their own priorities. We are now learning what works. As we develop Sure Start children's centres across the country,
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we will build on best practice to ensure that every family and every child in every community benefits from the Labour Government's investment in early years.

International Development

6. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What steps he is taking to promote the understanding of international development in schools. [201232]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke): On 15 November this year, I launched the Department for Education and Skills international strategy, called "Putting the world in world-class education". It makes clear my Department's aim to ensure a strong international dimension across our education system, which we intend to achieve by building on the good work already being done in many schools by the British Council, the Department for International Development and voluntary organisations. We have also developed the Global Gateway, which is a new international website to allow schools across the world to engage in creative partnerships and develop mutual understanding.

Ms Keeble: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he join me in congratulating the 25 schools in my constituency that have been studying the plight of HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya and preparing Christmas parcels of toys and school equipment for them? Will he join me in paying tribute to Kappa Packaging, the local firm that made the boxes, and to DHL, which is flying all 1,800 of them to Kenya? Does he agree that such work done by schools and backed by businesses is the way to build the kind of understanding that we need in future to tackle international problems?

Mr. Clarke: I very strongly commend the schools and organisations supporting the Kenya project in my hon. Friend's constituency. She has described that work to me, and it is genuinely impressive and exciting. Such work with Kenya fits absolutely with the Commission for Africa and the Government's focus, through our G8 presidency, on promoting Africa and how we can work together in so many ways. Education is the key to contesting HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, and the kind of work in Northampton that my hon. Friend can happily represent is inspirational.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): In my estimation, young people really are interested in international development and want to study it; many do so in their own private time with youth groups, church groups and various other organisations. I therefore encourage as much as possible the wider accessibility of learning about international development. I ask the Secretary of State look for ways further to assist young people in their gap years after school to enable them to go abroad to give assistance in the third and developing worlds, as Prince Harry did in Lesotho although clearly many of our young people do not have access to the resources that he has. Will the Secretary of State ensure that young people who want to go abroad are not prevented from doing so merely by lack of resources?

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct, and we are considering volunteering in the gap year in the
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way that he described. The Russell commission, in particular, is examining it and will make recommendations. The hon. Gentleman's point—I am delighted that it has all-party support—is fundamentally true. Young people know that they are growing up in an international, global world; they understand our interdependence and want to contribute to solving the problems of the world.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend commend Ross Workman, the head of Nailsworth school in my constituency, who has established very close links with Uganda? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should permit teachers, particularly head teachers, to go out and see different parts of the world, especially Africa, ensure that funding is in place and bring back teachers from those countries so that they can share in the developed world's education system and learn from what we do here?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is correct. I strongly commend the schools in his constituency that are doing this work. I have seen outstanding examples of such work, which is facilitated by the Global Gateway. I had a video conference with a school in Lagos, Nigeria that is working with a school in east London. It is exhilarating to see how people can begin to understand issues in this way and I commend it most strongly.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): A few months ago I had a wonderful series of visits to primary schools to discuss the international campaign on the 100 million children around the world who do not go to school. In view of the statement by the Department for International Development that educating girls is the single most effective measure in tackling international poverty, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity of that Department's forthcoming document on the subject to raise it more often in schools to promote greater understanding among our schoolchildren and to gain still further support for the international campaign on the efforts to educate girls around the world?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Yes, we will take that opportunity. We are working very closely with the Department for International Development. Incidentally, through campaigns such as Comic Relief, with its focus on the G8 presidency this year and the importance of Africa, we have already had initial discussions about how we can develop this and take it forward in a much stronger way. Returning to the comments of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), the fact is that there is a desire among young people in schools and colleges to get involved in this matter, and we have to enlist that.

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