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26 May 2005 : Column 214W—continued

Schools (Hertfordshire)

Mr. Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what plans she has to increase parental choice at (a) primary and (b) secondary school levels in Hertfordshire; and if she will make a statement. [780]

Jacqui Smith: This Government is wholeheartedly committed to the principle of real choice for parents and pupils so that they can choose between excellent local schools, including those with a distinctive ethos or specialism. Parents have the right to express a preference for whatever school they wish their child to attend and we want as many parents as possible to be able to send their child to their preferred school.

School admission authorities have a statutory duty to comply with parental preference, unless a particular school is oversubscribed, in which case places must be allocated according to the published admission arrangements.

We have introduced a number of measures to make it easier for the best schools to expand in line with parental demand including making dedicated capital funding available for the expansion of successful and popular secondary schools. Schools wishing to expand must follow a statutory process—consulting interested parties and publishing a statutory notice. The final decision is taken by the local School Organisation Committee (SOC) or an independent Schools Adjudicator. Our guidance to SOCs and adjudicators makes it clear that there is a presumption in favour of approving proposals to expand a successful and popular school.
 
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Mr. Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what measures she is taking to reduce secondary school class sizes in Hertfordshire; and if she will make a statement. [787]

Jacqui Smith: There is no national limit for secondary school classes as there is for infant classes of five, six and seven-year-olds. The average size of secondary school classes taught by one teacher nationally is 21.7. In Hertfordshire the average is 20.8. Only 8.7 per cent. of Hertfordshire's secondary classes have more than 30 pupils and there are no classes at all above 35 pupils.

Decisions about secondary class sizes are a matter for each school, using their delegated budget as they consider best. The funding that individual schools receive is a matter for local authorities through their locally agreed funding formulae and local authorities are best placed to know the needs and priorities of their schools. In terms of resourcing schools in Hertfordshire, in 2005–06 Hertfordshire have had an increase in their School Formula Spending Share of 5.5 per cent. per pupil.

Sure Start

John Hemming: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what estimate she has made of the amount of funding for Sure Start centres which will be required from sources other than public funds in each financial year up to 2015; and from where funding is expected to come. [979]

Beverley Hughes: Local authorities will have the responsibility to develop children's centres to meet the needs of their communities building on existing provision such as Sure Start Local Programmes, neighbourhood nurseries and primary schools. Local authorities were given their funding allocations for children's centres in early April. The Department has not estimated how much additional funding will be given to children's centres from sources other than public funds. However centres will provide services that have grown from a range of existing provisions which have a number of funding streams eg health services, Jobcentre-Plus, family support and early education. They will also often include private sector funded services such as childcare nurseries or training of staff. Centres would also be able to generate additional revenues by charging parents for some of their services such as childcare.

Teacher Recruitment

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the recruitment figures were in each local education authority for (a) primary and (b) secondary teachers in the last year for which figures are available; and how many unfilled vacancies there were in each. [765]

Jacqui Smith: The information requested has been placed in the Libraries.

Mr. Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what measures she is taking to
 
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assist Hertfordshire's schools to recruit and retain teachers; and if she will make a statement. [767]

Jacqui Smith: From September 2000, £6,000 training bursaries are being paid to eligible students on Postgraduate Certificate in Education courses that lead to qualified teacher status. For those who train in and then go on to teach in one of the priority subject areas, a £4,000 Golden Hello payment is made after induction has been completed. Since 2000, there has been a 9 per cent. increase in teacher numbers in Hertfordshire—from 9,030 in 2000 to 9,820 in 2004.

Other measures have been introduced to aid the retention of these teachers, including a "National Agreement on Raising Standards and Tackling Workload" which sets out a number of measures designed to tackle teacher workload including a concerted attack on unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy.

The Teacher Training Agency is also contributing to the salary costs of a recruitment manager in Hertfordshire local education authority until March 2007, to help schools in the area with their recruitment and retention strategies.

Mr. Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what measures she is taking to increase the pool of mathematics and science teachers available to secondary schools; and if she will make a statement. [776]

Jacqui Smith: From September 2000, £6,000 training bursaries are being paid to eligible students on Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) courses that lead to qualified teacher status. £4,000 Golden Hellos are also available to those who go on to teach priority subjects, including mathematics and science, in a maintained school after successful completion of an induction year. For those taking mathematics or science PGCE courses from September 2005, these incentives will each be increased by £1,000.

The Teacher Training Agency has also developed subject enhancement courses in mathematics, chemistry and physics to enable those without degrees primarily in those subjects to enter Initial Teacher Training in mathematics or science.

Teacher Retirement

Mr. Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what her policy is on preserving the right of teachers to retire at 60 years of age; and if she will make a statement. [768]

Jacqui Smith: The Government are committed to the continued provision of high quality pension arrangements for teachers that are affordable, reflect the challenges of continuing improvements in life expectancy and are justifiable to the tax payer. The current review of the Teachers' Pension Scheme is being conducted within that framework, but with the firm commitment that teachers will still be able to choose to retire at, before or after age 60.
 
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WORK AND PENSIONS

Benefit Marginal Withdrawal Rates

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people face marginal withdrawal rates higher than (a) 50 per cent., (b) 60 per cent., (c) 70 per cent., and (d) 80 per cent. when they come off benefits and go into work; and if he will make a statement. [968]

Dawn Primarolo: I have been asked to reply.

This information is not available.

Benefit Payment

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment his Department has made of the difficulties faced by individuals with mental health problems in receiving benefits into bank accounts. [868]

Mr. Plaskitt: More than 95 per cent. of people are paid into a bank, building society or Post Office card account. (This figure includes benefits paid to customers with mental health problems, such as disability living allowance and incapacity benefit.)

Independent research for DWP has shown that more than nine out of ten customers (again including those receiving benefits paid to people with mental health problems) were satisfied with having payments made directly into their account.

There is now a range of easy to operate basic bank accounts and the Post Office card account available. These have limited features and are suitable for those people who, for example, feel they cannot operate a traditional high street bank account (perhaps because they are concerned about becoming overdrawn).

However, we always recognised that there would be a small number of people who we could not pay into any sort of account, including some of those with mental health problems. These customers are paid by DWP cheque which they can cash over the counter at a Post Office branch. We wanted to ensure that we properly met the needs of those vulnerable customers who we could not pay into an account, and settled on cheque payments following extensive discussions with customer representative groups—including Mind (the leading mental health charity). For example, cheque payments offer the flexibility to pay people with mental heath problems for a short period until they feel that they are able to manage a bank account again.


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