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The Minister for Schools (Jacqui Smith): The Government are providing schools in Leicestershire with powers, training and guidance to deal with disruptive behaviour, including audit and training materials in secondary schools and new support for primary schools in teaching the skills for good behaviour. Leicestershire also has a behaviour consultant funded by the Department for Education and Skills.
Front-line professionals, with the support of parents, make the difference in schools. That is why we have asked 13 heads and teachers with a proven track record to advise us by the end of October on how to ensure that good practice is spread and on whether new powers are needed.
Rather like in this Chamber, the prerequisites for good behaviour in the classroom include discipline and respect, both of which are more likely to flow from staffroom initiatives than from ministerial edicts. Will the Minister accept the invitation from Ashby school, a large and successful 14-to-19 comprehensive in
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North-West Leicestershire of which I am a governor, to look at our good behaviour incentives and totting-up system that imposes a varying number of points from the most minor misdemeanour to the most serious offences? Twelve points will lead to exclusion. Is not this approacha mixture of reward and sanctionsthe most likely to achieve improvement both in the classroom and in this Chamber?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Ministers can ensure, as we are doing, that support and training are in place for our schools, but we cannot legislate for good behaviour. Teachers and other staff in our schools and classrooms are ensuring that those places are orderly in the vast majority of cases, and I also agree that they are more orderly than the Chamber for a vast majority of the time.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about how we can ensure that best practice, such as that to which he refers, is shared, and that is one of the tasks that we have given to the leadership group. I would be pleased to visit the school and hear about its approach, and I am sure that the group would want to hear about it, too.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Will the Minister tell me what on earth is a behaviour consultant? How much does that person cost, and would the money not be better spent directly on schools in Leicestershire, which is the lowest funded local education authority in the country?
Jacqui Smith: Considerable extra money is being spent in our schools on supporting good behaviour and raising standards. One issue rightly identified by staff in schools is the support available to help to implement the changes that many of them are putting in place. It is easy for the hon. and learned Gentleman to take a slightly sneering approach to the support provided for schools. Of course we need to get the balance right, but many schools have welcomed the assistance provided by behaviour consultants. It is also important that we get the money for behaviour as close to schools as possible, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has proposed that we devolve more money and give head teachers the responsibility to collaborate to come up with new approaches on supporting behaviour and tackling disruption that could be even more effective than the current system.
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough)
(Lab/Co-op): Good behaviour is an issue among students themselves because they recognise the disruption that can be caused. During my discussions with sixth-formers, they often identify specific problem years in their schools. I would like to go back to what the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said about school funding. The fact that Leicestershire continues to be the lowest funded authority causes severe problems in individual schools when new initiatives come along because we are trying to catch up with existing initiatives without adding on others. I say that as a governor of a school that is having difficulties implementing the work force agreement. Funding is currently being discussed, so will the Minister look again at the funding formula to ensure that Leicestershire gets the extra pocket that would allow us to make real progress?
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Jacqui Smith: I am sure that my hon. Friend is pleased to know that just behind the key stage 3 strategy on behaviour and attendance an additional £75 million is being made available to places including Leicestershire, as I have spelled out. I am aware of the arguments about funding that he is making. I am meeting the F40 group today to discuss precisely some of the issues that he raises, so I assure him that they remain high in my mind.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): May I gently tell the Minister that the front-line professionals and parents about whom she speaks do not talk to me in Leicestershire about marvellous new initiatives on good behaviour in the classroom because they talk to me all the time about funding, as the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) said? There is a remarkable cross-party consensus on the matter. Why is Leicestershire the worst funded education authority in the country? Two years ago, I took a cross-party group to see the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), but we still have no satisfactory answer to why we are so badly funded compared with Leicester, which is across the boundary from my constituency.
Jacqui Smith: I have responded partly to the points about Leicestershire's funding, but I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman talks to parents and front-line professionals in his constituency, they also talk about the considerable improvements to standards and behaviour that they have seen due to the extra £740 per pupil that has been received in Leicestershire since the Government came to power. I also have no doubt that during the general election campaign they compared the Government's record and plans for further investment with his party's plans for cuts.
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): Primary schools and local authorities need to have regard to the admissions code of practice when setting their admissions arrangements. They may not introduce selection, but faith schools may give priority to applicants of their faith.
Derek Wyatt: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. During the election campaign, parents expressed concern that primary schools would be able to select on academic ability. Will she reassure me that that will never be on our agenda?
I certainly make the pledge that not only will we never introduce further selection at the age of 11, but we will not introduce selection at the age of five either. I will have nothing to do with that now or in the future. Perhaps now that the electorate have delivered their verdict on the Conservatives' proposals, they will drop that foolish idea as well.
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Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): In setting admissions criteria for primary schools, should local councils, as local education authorities, be allowed or, indeed, encouraged to give preference to their local residents?
Ruth Kelly: When determining admissions arrangements, local councils must have regard to the admissions code of practice, which contains various matters that local schools and authorities can take into accountfor example, whether there are siblings or whether people live in a local catchment area. Those are legitimate things to have regard to, and I, from central Government, would not want to impose any particular model on schools.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle): By the end of May 2005, 2,425 young people in the Durham local authority area and 294,488 young people in England had received one or more education maintenance allowance payment.
Dr. Blackman-Woods: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Head teachers in my constituency have told me that EMAs are of tremendous value in encouraging young people to stay on at school, improving attendance and enhancing the qualifications and skills that young people can obtain. There is, however, a concern that communication could be better. Will she explain what is being done to make the benefits of the scheme more widely known?
Maria Eagle: We expected some 300,000 young people to be benefiting from the scheme by this stage, and we are very close to that. We do not think that nationally there is a problem with awareness. I am told that a variety of media campaignsweb-based leaflets, local radio and newspaper advertising, and information in schools and collegeshighlight the benefits. Additional information is also provided via the Connexions service for those who are, perhaps, harder to reach. I am confident that there is excellent communication on the benefits of the scheme.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Education maintenance allowances were piloted in Liverpool. Does my hon. Friend regard them as a success? What additional proposals does she have to expand opportunities for vocational and academic education for people in Liverpool?
The pilots, which took place throughout the country from 1999 onwards, showed a great deal of success in reaching the target groups and increasing the staying-on rate among our 16-year-olds. We have to remember that we have one of the lowest staying-on rates in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the point of the policy is to address that.
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We have plans to ensure that EMAs are expanded into vocational education so that those who are on unwaged training programmes also receive the payment in due course. Certainly, the pilot programme showed an increase in the staying-on rate of just below 6 per cent. as a result of the policy, so we have high hopes that rolling it out nationally will be a good thing.
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