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Planning and Co-ordination

7. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): What structures are in place to assist liaison between learning and skills councils and local education authorities in planning and co-ordinating 11 to 16 and post-16 education and training. [209679]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Derek Twigg): There is a range of locally agreed mechanisms to support such collaboration. Local authorities are represented on local learning and skills councils. Many areas have 14 to 19 steering groups, normally jointly led by local education authorities and local LSCs, in particular to oversee the development and implementation of area inspection action plans. Local LSCs are required to consult all stakeholders, including LEAs, in strategic area reviews of post-16 provision. LEAs are required to consult LSCs in school organisation and capital planning.

Mr. Watts: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to the Front Bench, and thank him for that response. Two reviews are taking place in St. Helens at present, one of schools and the other of post-16 provision. What advice can he offer about how organisations can ensure that they work together and produce the best options for parents and young people?

Derek Twigg: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I can give a clear example of what he seeks. The increased flexibility of the programme for 14 to 16-year-olds is an excellent example of how local LSCs and LEAs work together constructively in local partnerships to improve learning opportunities for young people. The scheme is in its third year, with about 300 partnerships in existence. There are some partnerships in every LSC area, and they involve more than 90,000 young people from 2,000 schools.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I, too, welcome the Minister to his post. Will he look again at
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the changes being made to the Connexions service, especially in respect of careers advice in schools? Real problems are being caused in many of the schools in my constituency, and I suspect that the same is happening elsewhere. I understand the concentration on helping pupils of modest achievements, but all the students in a college like Frome community college need careers advice. However, the college has lost its specialist careers adviser, which means that it has lost an essential ingredient in ensuring that young people are directed towards the right training and higher education after the ages of 16 and 18, and towards the right future career paths.

Derek Twigg: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important matter. We are reviewing the situation, and will make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on his promotion. He may be aware that Luton recently had a difficult 14 to 19 inspection, but that is countered by good news, because Barnfield college and Luton sixth form college in my constituency both received grade 1 in their inspection and are both now beacon status colleges. Also, two high schools have now left special measures and are making strong progress. Does my hon. Friend agree that the problems in 14 to 19 education derive mainly from problems in primary education 10 and more years ago, now that that cohort has reached the 14 to 19 stage? The Government's correct emphasis on primary education will feed through and lead to improvements in the future.

Derek Twigg: I congratulate the schools in question, which have obviously done a very good job. We have to get the basics right, and our literacy and numeracy strategies have been working well. Standards are at their highest ever. Starting with Sure Start, we are making sure that that goes right through schooling.

Tuition Fees

8. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) (LD): If she will make a statement on tuition fees for postgraduate certificate in education courses. [209680]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Dr. Kim Howells): In the context of the fascinating discussion that we have heard this morning about the use and importance of modern languages, I apologise in advance for the hideously opaque language of the answer I am about to read out. Tuition fees are currently remitted for eligible trainees on postgraduate certificate in education courses. Other forms of support are also available. For the future, providers of initial teacher training will be able to charge variable fees to PGCE trainees, but we are working on the basis that when variable fees are introduced the first £1,200 of the £2,700 maintenance grant will be non-means-tested for PGCE students. That matches the current grant for PGCE students and if, in the light of the "Gateways to Professions" report, we decide to make changes to the support arrangements, they will be announced in due course.

Mr. Rendel: I am grateful to the Minister for that slightly complex answer. At least we now know a little
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more about what will happen. Does he agree, however, that given that those on the graduate training programme do not have to pay for the costs of their training, there will be an anomaly with those who are on the PGCE course and charged variable fees, even if part is remitted?

Dr. Howells: I think that the graduate training programme has been an enormous success so far. The news today is that lots of quite senior professionals are going into teaching. They have decided to take up teaching as a career—and it is a great career. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will take every precaution to ensure that anomalies do not exist and that we see a good take-up of PGCE places, with a good supply of teachers in the future.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that the other side of the tuition fee argument is the restoration by this Government of the student grant? He will have seen yesterday that my constituency sends the fewest youngsters to university of any in the United Kingdom. In a poor constituency such as mine, 60 per cent. of youngsters would qualify for a full grant and an additional 36 per cent. of youngsters for a partial grant. That is the best way to crack the problem of getting young people from deprived backgrounds into higher education.

Dr. Howells: Yes, and I know that my hon. Friend is passionate about working with all the bodies in his constituency and the wider region to try to increase applications to university. He knows, as I do, that the task is very complex, because it means addressing the most pernicious problem of poverty of aspirations in so many of our communities in areas such as the one that he represents. That is the great task before us, but I am convinced that all of the measures we have introduced will help.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): This is bad news for our student teachers—fourth-year students who have already run up the costs of three years at university, and who will now see a significant increase in their debt. That means that fewer people will come forward to do those courses. Where will it stop? Will it be radiographers and doctors next? Do the Government plan to remove all the concessions on fees? When will the Government understand that it is our public services and recruitment to teaching and national health service jobs that will suffer from their ill-thought-out policies on fees? I say to all those student teachers who will suffer from this measure that the Conservatives in government will reverse them.

Dr. Howells: I know that we all have problems with language from time to time, but that was speaking with a forked tongue with a vengeance. That lot want to cut the number of teachers and cut public services, and they will do it. Let nobody be taken in by their weasel words of sympathy for teachers and those in education. The Conservatives will cut public services; they always do. They did it in the 1990s and they will do it if they are ever elected again.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting angry about that issue; it is
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vital that we bring more people into teaching. As the balance has changed and more people are coming into teaching through the PGCE route, will he assure me that he will keep an eye on the situation and undertake detailed research so that people are clear about what they are sacrificing by coming into teaching—the balance of funding in terms of the jobs given up as more and more mature students go into teaching and the costs of going into the profession? Will my hon. Friend assure me that he intends to undertake that detailed research?

Dr. Howells: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, but I must tell him that I do not think that it is a sacrifice to take part in higher education and to invest in one's own future. Frankly, a lot of drivel is talked about that. When people take part in higher education they do so in the good knowledge that it will cost them something, but that it is the best investment they will ever make and that they will be given the best help they are ever likely to get in their lives. We shall keep a close eye on the situation, but we will also ensure that people are not put off either by scaremongering stories or by misconceptions about what entering higher education entails and that they know the good it can do for every individual in the country.

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