24 Mar 2005 : Column 983

House of Commons

Thursday 24 March 2005

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Further Education Colleges

1. Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the future of adult education in further education colleges. [223597]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): On 22 March we published our skills White Paper. It set out our plans for improving adult learning, including the national roll-out of the entitlement to free tuition to NVQ level 2. A vital part of those plans is building the capacity of colleges to deliver benefits for employers and individuals. Over the next five years, we are investing £1.5 billion in capital to support the transformation of the further education sector.

Mr. Grogan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but how would she reply to the Association of Colleges and, indeed, to my constituent, Mr. Colin Ratcliffe, who attends a sculpture class at York college? They both welcome the emphasis on basic skills, but are concerned that fee rises for non-examined adult education courses might undermine the principle of lifelong learning, particularly among less well-off pensioners and adults.

Ruth Kelly: I recognise my hon. Friend's interest in these matters, as I recognise the importance of adult education. Sometimes such education does not lead to a recognised qualification in basic skills or a level 2 qualification, which is why we said in the White Paper that we would safeguard the funding available for the provision of adult education. Within that, it is for individual colleges to decide their charging structure. They should take ability to pay into account. There remains a significant contribution to the subsidy provided and I suspect that practically all colleges would exempt all poorer pensioners from any charge.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) (LD): In her statement on Tuesday, the Secretary of State said:

24 Mar 2005 : Column 984

Following the previous supplementary question, I am rather sad to hear that the Secretary of State sees adult learning purely in terms of employment prospects. Important though it is to give people skills to do jobs, does she agree that adult learning also has a crucial part to play in enhancing the quality of life for students and their communities—as, for example, with the provision of language training for people who may be involved in town twinning? Does she accept that enhancing the quality of life is just as important an aspect of Government business as enhancing the standard of living?

Ruth Kelly: I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but he was clearly not listening to the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), in which I made it clear that I recognise the significant contribution that adult education provides and that we should acknowledge its value for its own sake as well as for helping people to get or progress their jobs, which is another important aspect of adult education. That is why we have agreed indicative budgets with the Learning and Skills Council that maintain the level of public funding for adult education, secured through local education authorities. At the moment, many FE colleges do not raise as much as they could from those who are able to contribute towards the cost of their learning, and it is for FE colleges to decide their own charging structure. As I have told the House, we will safeguard the central Government funding for adult education.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it should be our ambition to be as generous with adult education as we are with higher education? Is she aware that many students are coming into higher education a year early? If they enter in September 2006, their financial package of bursaries and grants—with parents paying nothing and nothing to pay back until the students are earning £15,000—offers them a much better deal. Should we not tell the world about that and point out that the Liberal Democrat voices are misleading?

Ruth Kelly: I agree with my hon. Friend. There has never been a better time in this country to be a poor but bright student going to college. We are reintroducing grants and ensuring that students have nothing to pay while they are studying, so poor students should aim to go to college: it will be worth their while for the future, as well. My hon. Friend and others should look at the report of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which pointed out that all students would be better off under our proposals and that they would be £1.5 billion better off under Labour than under the Conservatives.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (Con): Do not the Secretary of State's warm words about adult education, though welcome, fail to conceal the reality that charges are going up and courses are being axed in FE colleges throughout the land? Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) pointed out that his local FE college has seen a 29 per cent. increase in the number of adult learners, but only a 1 per cent. increase in the resources to pay for them—and many other colleges face the same
24 Mar 2005 : Column 985
situation. Do not most colleges, including the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), want a return to the days when funding was not linked solely to the outcome of qualifications? Would they not be best advised to vote Conservative?

Ruth Kelly: I am astonished by the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Not only are we securing adult education, we are investing heavily in all adult education. As a result, the 15 million adults who need basic skills education to bring them up to level 2 standard in numeracy, and the 5 million who need it to bring them up to level 2 standard in literacy, will get that qualification provided free.

I am intrigued by what the hon. Gentleman said, as he told the House last week that the Opposition were committed to matching the Government's overall spending on education and skills. Will he confirm that he now disagrees with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Leader of the Opposition, who this morning pledged to match our funding only on schools? The hon. Gentleman describes himself as a banana—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is fine.

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): I have a very specific question. The Budget contained the welcome announcement that an additional £350 million would be made available over two years for what was called the longer-term transformation of the FE sector. Will my right hon. Friend expand on that? Is that money intended to be used for buildings? More specifically, is it likely that some of those resources can be used to enable the excellent Redcar and Cleveland FE college to achieve its ambition to rebuild, with substantially enhanced facilities? That would enable it to continue its excellent work of making available skills provision to those in Redcar who still need it.

Ruth Kelly: I certainly can provide that confirmation. The extra £350 million announced in the Budget means that we will be investing £1.5 billion in the FE sector over the next five years. Our long-term commitment to the FE sector means that colleges throughout the country will be able to provide world-class facilities.

School Funding (Coventry)

2. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): How much (a) primary schools and (b) secondary schools in Coventry have received from the Government in each year since the introduction of direct payments. [223599]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): Between 2001–02 and 2004–05, primary schools in Coventry received a total of £9.8 million in school standards grant. Secondary schools received £6.5 million, and special schools £1.1 million. In addition, in 2000–01, the first year of the grant, Coventry received £1.7 million in school standards grant for distribution to its schools.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. How does Coventry compare with the rest of the country?
24 Mar 2005 : Column 986

Ruth Kelly: Schools in Coventry have received an increase of £990 per pupil since 1997—a rise of 34 per cent. As I understand it, that is more than the average across the rest of the country.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (Con): Why did the Chancellor say in his Budget last week that the continuation of direct payment to schools in Coventry and elsewhere would be a guarantee, when the small print in the Red Book said that the figures were illustrative only? If direct payments to schools are such a good idea, why does not the Secretary of State follow the Conservative policy of making all such payments direct to schools and thus cutting out local education authorities entirely?

Ruth Kelly: My right hon. Friend the Chancellor was referring to new money that will be available to schools in 2006–07 and 2007–08. Of course, that will be linked to pupil numbers, so individual schools will have to work out, with their local authority, precisely what their entitlement is. As for Conservative policy, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that transferring money direct to schools would not mean that he would cut the school transport budget?

Mr. Speaker: Order. Both sides are at fault in this. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman should not ask about Conservative party policy. That is not one of the Secretary of State's responsibilities, and that is why I gave her some leeway. Moreover, I received notice as to which questions the Opposition spokesman wanted to be allowed to come in on only when I entered the Chamber. I want that information before I enter the House.

Next Section IndexHome Page