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House of Commons

Thursday 14 July 2005

The House met a half-past Ten o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker's Statement

Mr. Speaker: The House will know that today at noon the nation will remember those who died in London in the terrorist attacks. I regard it as appropriate that we should join the nation in observing the two-minute silence when the House will be sitting, and I will interrupt business accordingly. I should be grateful if those responsible for chairing Committees would also make appropriate arrangements. Instructions will be issued to heads of departments so that those members of staff who wish to observe the two-minute silence should be enabled to do so. The House will also wish to know that I have received very many expressions of sympathy and condolence from the Speakers and the presiding officers of other Parliaments in all parts of the world. I will place these in the Library for the information of all Members.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Dedicated Schools Grant

1. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): If she will make a statement on the Government's plans for the dedicated schools grant. [11917]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): Our detailed proposals for the new dedicated schools grant were set out in the consultation document published in February on the proposed new school funding arrangements to be introduced from April 2006. We expect to announce our final decisions on the new arrangements shortly in the light of responses to the consultation.

Mr. Harper: Gloucestershire spends more on schools than the Government formula suggests. Can the Secretary of State assure me that once the transitional period is over the plans will not reduce the amount of funding that would otherwise have gone to our schools?

Ruth Kelly: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on championing the needs of schools in his constituency. It is right that schools in Gloucestershire as well as schools
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across the country continue to benefit from the substantial increases in funding from the Government. On the detail of the dedicated schools grant consultation, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools has consulted members of the F40 group, including Gloucestershire, and she will meet a delegation from the country to discuss that precise point.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for that information. My schools welcome the three-year plans for budgets, particularly because in the past they have not received their annual budgets until July or August, which made budgeting extremely difficult. I spoke to the head teacher of Lethbridge primary school, Ray Norman, earlier this week—

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I ask the hon. Member to change her tack? Her question to the Minister must be brief, so I can allow only a very short question.

Anne Snelgrove: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your kindness.

Can the Secretary of State reassure Lethbridge primary school that its revenue budget will allow it to make provisions for two hours' physical exercise and all the other initiatives that the Department is asking for, as well as the incredible—[Interruption.] I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker.

Ruth Kelly: I understand very well the points that my hon. Friend is making with such commitment. Schools need more funding, and they need to be able to introduce more school sports, particularly in the light of the recent announcement on the Olympic games. The dedicated schools grant will help all schools, because it allows them to plan with certainty on the basis of budgets that, for the first time, are set for three years. That stability is important for head teachers.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware that it is not just Gloucestershire that is affected; schools in Kent are concerned about the new funding system, and they are particularly worried that it will not be able to cope with the extra costs of work force reform. What reassurance can she give schools in Kent that have made representations to her that work force reform will be properly covered by the new funding formula?

Ruth Kelly: I have received representations from Kent about the implementation of planning, preparation and assessment time, which will come into force through legislation this September. Teachers have called for such a provision, and it is right that we make funding available to allow schools to plan for the coming years with predictability and certainty. That is the key to the dedicated schools grant. It is the very first time that a Government have been able to respond directly to requests from head teachers so that they have the certainty to allow them to plan, including for PPA time.

Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend makes changes to the dedicated school grant, may I urge her not to use the current area cost adjustment methodology? Not only is it deeply flawed, but it disadvantages every pupil in Worcestershire.
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Ruth Kelly: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done in pursuing the case of Worcestershire, along with others in the F40 group. [Interruption.] I can hear my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools making known her views on the issue from a sedentary position. She is familiar with schools in Worcestershire and their funding needs. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) will have to be a little more patient until my right hon. Friend has the privilege of announcing the results of the consultation exercise. I hope my hon. Friend will not have to wait very long.

Careers Guidance

2. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What steps she is taking to improve the effectiveness of careers guidance and counselling. [11918]

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): We will set out our plans for improving information, advice and guidance for young people in the youth Green Paper, which will be published shortly.

Mr. Crabb: Is the Minister aware that despite the hard efforts of many careers advisers and other professionals, figures from her Department show that the number of    16-year-old males not in full-time education, employment or training has risen by a massive 68 per cent. since 1997, and that unemployment among 16 and 17-year-olds is at its highest since records began in 1992? I strongly urge the Minister to look again at the problem of youth inactivity and in so doing to utilise the skills and experience of organisations such as Fairbridge, Weston Spirit and the Prince's Trust, which have a far better track record in tackling social exclusion than her Department.

Beverley Hughes: As the hon. Gentleman knows, Connexions has met its target of returning to education, employment or training young people who were out of any of those three situations. There is a problem with statistics, in that the national statistics have been derived from different sets of data, and we are examining that. I believe the hon. Gentleman was quoting the national statistics. Connexions' statistics are derived from its own direct contact with young people and represent what it has achieved, but I accept that we need to make sure that the national data and Connexions data are aligned. That is a top priority for the Government and a key target that we are actively pursuing. We want every young person to be in education, employment or training, because that is how they will improve their life chances for the future.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): If the youth Green Paper appears before the recess, I hope the Minister will apologise for the months of delay, which have destabilised and undermined everyone involved in careers guidance and youth work. I know that she will not want to pre-empt her plans for the careers guidance service, but can she at least tell us that those plans will have two principles at their heart: first, that they will apply to everybody, so that all our young people will get quality careers guidance, which has not been the experience under Connexions; and secondly,
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that they will enshrine the principle of independent careers advice, which is so important to ensure that young people get the full range of choices open to them?

Beverley Hughes: I understand the expectation and anticipation in the various sectors as regards the Green Paper, but I will not apologise to the hon. Gentleman for the delay. We had a general election and it was important that we got the recommendations right. There is a great deal riding on the proposals in the Green Paper, and if not for the events of last week, it would probably have been published by now. I hope that nothing will come in the way of publication very shortly. The principles that the hon. Gentleman outlined are important to us. It is important that young people get impartial advice, that they can relate that advice to their experience in schools, that schools have some accountability for the advice, that it is as expert as possible, and that it is informed by the views and experience of employers. We have tried to bring all that into the recommendations that we will shortly produce.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): When the Minister produces her plans later in the year, may I urge her to involve business more in careers guidance, and also to consider students with higher academic achievement? Connexions seems to have done a good job in some areas for those who are less academic, but not such a good job for those with higher academic achievement.

Beverley Hughes: I agree on the point about business. We want to ensure that that is built into the system. I know that employers and the CBI feel strongly about that, as do we. Young people should get a range of advice about all the academic, vocational and careers opportunities at an early stage, so that that can inform their curriculum choices. We are trying to achieve that. On Connexions more generally, it has done well with children with additional needs. That is undisputed. There are Connexions services that provide good information and advice, although I accept that the Ofsted picture is more variable on that front. We are trying to ensure that we build on the best of Connexions in what we produce.

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