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PFI Projects

4. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What assessment she has made of her Department's private finance initiative projects in Wirral, South. [223601]

12. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Whether private finance initiative deals for new schools agreed by her Department but as yet unsigned could be cancelled by an incoming Government. [223609]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I understand that services have commenced in all seven Wirral secondary schools and that its primary school will be operational by September. Support for local authority PFI projects is provisional until the contract is signed, and an incoming Government could cancel any planned investment that had not been finally committed. However, the Government are committed to long-term investment in schools, including through PFI, as shown by the Chancellor's recent Budget statement.

Mr. Chapman: Is my hon. Friend aware that three schools in my constituency have recently been freed from the shambles that was Jarvis project management? Notwithstanding that shambles and the considerable hardship, delay, inconvenience, financial implications and other issues, all the schools have variously managed to increase their standards, maintain their charter mark, add another speciality to a college specialism and generally keep going through difficult times. Will my hon. Friend join me in the hope that the new arrangements through Wirral school services will mean better times ahead, and that the new contractors, having taken stock of what needs to be done, in two schools in particular, especially taking into account health and safety issues, will make due progress and make full use
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of the immediate school holidays and those to come to reach as satisfactory and speedy a conclusion as possible?

Mr. Lewis: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and congratulate him and his colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford), on securing that record level of capital investment in Wirral schools. The PFI programme will bring about the replacement of two schools and the extension and refurbishment of seven schools in Wirral. I am glad that the contractual problems have been resolved, and am delighted to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the real-terms increase in per pupil funding for Wirral is £1,050, a 37 per cent. increase since 1997–98, and that the amount for capital in 2004–05 was £13.3 million, compared with £3.3 million in 1996–97. That is a very good reason for the people of Wirral to vote Labour at the next election.

John Mann: For the first time ever, Bassetlaw is top of the class for schools money, with the PFI money for new schools, the plans for 10 new children's centres and the eagerly anticipated rebuilding of many primary schools following the Budget. Can my hon. Friend foresee any circumstances in which the hopes and aspirations of my constituents, who have waited 70 years for that investment, could be dashed by the Government?

Mr. Lewis: I can foresee such circumstances: if the people of Bassetlaw and elsewhere do not vote Labour at the next general election.


5. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Whether she plans to give greater weight to the views of head teachers on exclusions. [223602]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Twigg): We give great weight to head teachers' views, expressed individually or through their associations, when formulating exclusions policy. We back head teachers' authority where pupils' behaviour warrants exclusion and have reformed appeal panels to strike a better balance between the interests of the individual and those of the school.

Mr. Bellingham: What do the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers have in common? They all support the policy that head teachers should have the final say on exclusions. Why will not the hon. Gentleman and his ministerial team listen to what professionals in the classroom are saying? Is not that the reason why Labour's support among teachers is haemorrhaging every day?

Mr. Twigg: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. The SHA has a policy of full support for the appeal panels; John Dunford is on record as supporting our stance. The only union that the hon. Gentleman listed that has a clear policy with which he would agree is the NASUWT. As for our support among teachers, the poll
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in The Times Educational Supplement to which I think he was referring showed that support among teachers for the Conservative party had fallen from 10 to 9 per cent.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Despite all that, I wonder whether the Minister might apply himself to the real fact: many head teachers feel that on those most difficult occasions they do not have the power, authority or support to make decisions that are very tough for a head to make. Those decisions should be entirely in their hands, if schools in some of the most difficult areas, which are to be found in many of our constituencies, are to be run in a way that gives responsibility to the head.

Mr. Twigg: The right hon. Gentleman makes a thoughtful contribution, and it is absolutely fair to say that head teachers often operate in very challenging circumstances. That is why we reformed the appeal panels in the light of the concerns that have been raised—for example, by the Secondary Heads Association—to give much greater weight to the views of those on appeal panels with direct experience, including head teachers.

I should like to share with the House the fact that in the most recent year for which we have figures—2002–03—there were more than 9,000 exclusions, about 10 per cent. of which were appealed. The total number of successful appeals was 149. We must have an appeals system in the interests of natural justice. That view is shared by the Secondary Heads Association, but I absolutely concur with the right hon. Gentleman that we need to give clear support to head teachers in what is often a challenging job for them in many of our schools.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): Is it not the reality of the Government's plan to force every school to take on excluded pupils that they will give head teachers less say on exclusions, but is it not right to give them the final word on exclusions in the interests of those children who want learn but who may have been prevented from doing so by the amount of disruption in our classrooms?

Mr. Twigg: We are indeed working with schools so that they can collaborate locally to ensure the best possible pupil behaviour. That has been welcomed by head teachers, the other unions and school governors, and we should work together to ensure that that approach is successful. Ultimately, if we do not have appeal panels, parents will go to court. Do we really want our court system clogged up with parents appealing against such decisions? I understand that the Conservative party has said that it will deal with that by denying legal aid to parents who want to go to court. In other words, the Conservatives are saying that only rich kids will be able to appeal in those circumstances; poorer kids will not be able to do so. Our system may be imperfect, but it is the best one on offer to ensure the right balance between the needs of the schools and those of the individual pupil.

Mathematics Teaching

6. Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): If she will make a statement on the teaching of mathematics in primary and secondary schools. [223603]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Derek Twigg): Her Majesty's chief inspector's latest annual report shows that the quality of mathematics teaching and learning is good or better in about seven in 10 primary schools; about seven in 10 schools at key stage 3; just under two thirds at key stage 4; and about eight in 10 school sixth forms. Relative to other subjects, mathematics is above average at most key stages.

Mr. Gibb: A quarter of 11-year-olds are still not reaching level 4 in maths, and Britain is a poor 18th out of 41 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to the latest study under the programme for international student assessment, which focused on maths. Does the Minister agree that every child should be taught multiplication tables by rote and be able to respond effortlessly to every multiplication table question up to the 12 times table, so that if I were to ask him what seven sixes are, he would effortlessly know that the answer is 42?

Derek Twigg: The answer is yes. Ofsted's latest mathematics subject report says that the teaching and learning of mathematics continues to be a strength in primary schools.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I congratulate the Government on what they are doing in primary education—taking mathematics teaching seriously after decades of neglect—and our children are definitely improving. However, are not different teaching methods still used in primary schools, some of which work better than others? Is it not time to be prescriptive about precisely how maths is taught in primary schools? Indeed, I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) on this subject. Is it not time to research precisely what works and to ensure that every school uses the best methods?

Derek Twigg: Obviously, to an extent, we have to be prescriptive in terms of the numeracy hour, but I want to reiterate that we have seen a 12 percentage point rise in success rates since 1997, and that Ofsted says that the teaching and learning of mathematics continues to be a strength in our primary schools.

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