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Union Learning Fund

3. Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the work of the union learning fund in assisting women to improve basic skills. [11919]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Phil Hope): The union learning fund is a major success story. It has helped to train nearly 12,000 union learning representatives in more 3,000 workplaces, and it has brought more than 167,000 workers back into learning. The scheme increasingly engages women workers and helps them to improve their basic skills.

Gwyn Prosser: My hon. Friend shares my enthusiasm for the union learning fund's excellent work with non-traditional learners all over the country. Will he pay special tribute to the work of the GMB union, which is doing a grand job in the southern region training care
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workers from basic skills to NVQ2? What is he doing to ensure that the union learning fund provides equal opportunities for women, and what would be the impact of scrapping the whole scheme, which is the Conservative party's plan?

Phil Hope: I know the importance of the union learning fund, because, when I visited a factory in Leeds called Pittards a few weeks ago, I was deeply impressed by the way in which union learning representatives were involving shop-floor workers, many of whom had not engaged with learning since they left school 20 or 30 years ago. I pay tribute to the GMB, which is one of the unions that has been involved for many years in training social care workers through the union learning fund. The scheme is being extended to those industries with a higher proportion of women workers, such as social care and retail. I must tell my hon. Friend that 80 per cent. of the workers involved in the learning opportunities at the Transport and General Workers Union Leeds learning exchange are female, and that some 75 per cent. of the skills for life learners at the three Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers centres in Greater Manchester are women.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Will the Minister join the 192 hon. Members who have signed early-day motion 195, which asks the Government to examine putting learning in the workplace on a more formal basis and to encourage those employers who do not currently engage with learning in the workplace to do so?

Phil Hope: Yes; I welcome the 192 signatures to the early-day motion in support of the union learning fund. Indeed, some Opposition Front Benchers have broken ranks with the Tory's policy of abolishing the union learning fund to support that EDM, and I am delighted that they have done so. Some unions and employers include training and skills in collective bargaining agreements, and the Department of Trade and Industry is currently reviewing the statutory basis for that practice. I remind hon. Members that we have already introduced a statutory right to time off with pay for union learning representatives to carry out their duties. It is a shame that the Conservative party has pledged to abolish the union learning fund, because at least 15 Conservative Members would clearly benefit from the leadership training courses.

Primary Schools

4. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): What the spending per primary school pupil was in (a) Nottinghamshire and (b) England in 2004–05. [11920]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle): In 2004–05, the total revenue funding per pupil made available to support primary age pupils in Nottinghamshire through general funding and specific grant was £3,210, compared with £3,560 for England.

Paddy Tipping : Spending on primary schools in Nottinghamshire has doubled under this Government, but the figures show that Nottinghamshire is seriously
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disadvantaged against the national norm—out of 150 local authorities, it is the 129th worst funded. A new funding formula is being put together, so what hope is there for children in Nottinghamshire of a better, fairer and more equitable system from 1 April next year?

Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend will have heard the exchange between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and various hon. Members on Question 1. He also knows that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools recently met representatives from 40 authorities, including his own, as part of the consultation on new funding arrangements for schools. The consultation has finished, and a decision will be made shortly.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): What justification can there be for counties in the same region getting different sorts of funding for primary education?

Maria Eagle: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that all local education authorities receive the same basic per-pupil funding entitlement according to the age of the pupils. Differences in funding occur between LEAs, so there is top-up funding that recognises the incidence of factors such as additional education needs, deprivation, sparsity where there is rurality, and problems in recruiting and retaining staff. That explains the differences between LEAs that seem on the face of it to be similar.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): On the additional money for the deprivation factor, does my hon. Friend acknowledge that under the current system the target of paying extra money for deprivation is missed in the case of up to as many as 45 per cent. of children who come from deprived backgrounds? Does she further acknowledge that new evidence submitted by F40—the fair education funding forum—in response to the recent consultation showed how every school could get precisely the correct amount of money for all the children who come to their school from deprived backgrounds?

Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend has been very active in F40, which he chairs, and has demonstrated a full knowledge of the issues. He and others from his group have met my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools to explain in full their ideas about how the formula might be altered, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have taken those representations fully into account. When the decisions are announced my hon. Friend will find out, along with everyone else, what impact he has had.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): In Nottinghamshire, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) knows, we have traditionally topped up Government funding to ensure the best possible deal for our pupils. We are concerned that, under the new arrangements, that will count against Nottinghamshire in future. Will the Minister look particularly at that point before the new arrangements are finalised?

Maria Eagle: Yes.
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School Expansion

6. Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): If she will make a statement on her policy on allowing good schools to expand. [11922]

The Minister for Schools (Jacqui Smith): We strongly support the expansion of successful and popular schools where they believe that they can sustain high quality for their students. We have therefore provided that all schools may publish their own proposals to expand, and introduced a presumption that proposals by successful and popular schools should be approved by the local school organisation committee and the schools adjudicator. That will enable more parents to gain a place for their child at the school of their choice.

Mr. Wilson: Is the Minister aware of the inept decision of Reading local education authority not to allow Emmer Green primary school in my constituency to take 25 additional children despite the support of teachers, governors and parents? That has led to a chain of events unfolding whereby this week the LEA spent tens of thousands of pounds on going to a judicial review challenging the rights of local parents to send their child to a local school. Does the Minister think that that requires her Department's intervention?

Jacqui Smith: I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns about the position at Emmer Green primary school. I am sure that he understands, however, that in order to maintain the considerable progress that we have made on reducing class sizes in primary schools, there will sometimes be occasions where it is not possible for all parents to get a primary school place. That is part of the background to the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions. Of course, it is also important that local authorities carry out their responsibilities in respect of planned school places. It is right that that happens at a local level and takes parents' concerns into consideration. Reading recently produced its school organisation plan for 2005–10 spelling out its plans for how it can ensure that more parents are able to get places in the schools that they want. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be engaged in discussions about that with other partners in the area.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that our priority should be making all schools good schools? Is it not about time that the Government addressed the fact that the vocational menu is not right for some children, who need a mix of both vocational and academic subjects? The chief inspector of schools says that A-levels will not be around in 10 years, as does the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Something is going on and we should be doing something about it.

Jacqui Smith: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend's first point about the need to ensure that all schools are good schools. I know that he shares our appreciation of teachers' work in improving standards in the past seven or eight years so that there are fewer failing schools and more successful schools from which parents can choose. He also makes an important point about the progress that we need to make in ensuring that options are open,
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especially for older students, from the age of 14, to pursue an academic route or a vocational route and for there to be equal esteem. We have made considerable progress on increasing flexibility, for example, in key stage 4. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear in the 14 to 19 White Paper, there is much more that we can do and we are moving quickly towards ensuring that that progress continues.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Does the Minister know about Walton high school, which the Prime Minister visited recently, in Milton Keynes? It wants to expand but cannot currently expand its sixth form. The strip of land required was originally valued at £12,000 and was a reserve site. However, English Partnerships has recently revalued it at £234,000. Although the Minister cannot comment on that individual case, will she look into the matter? Does she believe that it is right that unaccountable and unelected Government quangos should be able to hold schools to ransom in that way?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is right: that does not fall within my area of responsibility. If he wants to send me further details, I shall consider them. However, I am sure that he knows that all Government agencies have a responsibility to ensure value for money for the assets that they own. That does not undermine our concern to ensure that, whether we are considering the development of new sixth forms or the expansion of popular and successful schools, we do even more than we have been able to achieve up to now by, for example, changing from 1 August the regulations on the speed and ease with which it is possible to make applications to expand schools. That should ensure that such expansion happens more often.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I accept the Minister's point that it may be right in some circumstances to allow some schools to expand. However, does she agree that the free-for-all policy that some advocated during the election campaign, whereby schools anywhere could expand, would lead not only to chaos locally but to an inefficient use of resources?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right that we need to ensure the expansion of popular and successful schools to meet parents' needs in a way that recognises the financial position and the requirements of all parents in an area. He makes a good point, which the Conservative party, in its rush to slogans rather than solutions, missed during the election campaign. I hope that Conservative Members will not continue to miss it. Another important factor is that, to enable the expansion, we need investment, especially in capital. Too often, Conservative Members have voted against the additional resources that we are investing in schools, which enable the expansion of successful schools and the renovation and rebuilding of existing schools.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I am delighted that the Minister agrees that we should support the expansion of popular and successful schools—it is right to do that. She will therefore share my disappointment that, in the past year, the Government have backed the expansion of only two schools, increasing places by
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only 379 when there are more than 50,000 appeals from parents whose children do not get into their first choice of school. Is not it time to make the process easier? The Minister referred to the changes that the Government announced last week. Although they will make the process quicker, they will not make it easier. Is not it time that popular and successful schools can expand and that the expansion is not blocked by unpopular schools or LEAs?

Jacqui Smith: Since we changed the policy in 2003 to enable the expansion of popular and successful applications, we have received 20 applications and approved seven. Eight are still being considered and £3.1 million of investment has been put in. However, the hon. Gentleman is right: we want to ensure that the process is quicker and easier. That is why we are changing the regulations from 1 August and are willing to put in the capital to make it happen.

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