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Sixth Form Finance

3. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): If she will make a statement on sixth form funding in schools. [49939]

The Minister for Schools (Jacqui Smith): Since 2002–03, school sixth form funding has increased from £1.4 billion to a planned £1.9 billion in 2007–08. On 21 October, we announced our strategy for Government funding priorities for post-16 education to 2008, including for school sixth forms. We confirmed the extra funding to meet the needs of an additional 46,000 16 to18-year-olds expected in school sixth forms and colleges by 2007–08 and we are increasing funding rates for 2006–07 and 2007–08 in line with the schools minimum funding guarantee.

Mr. Gray: I am grateful to the Minister for her full answer and I am grateful to the Government for their commitment to a vibrant and fast expanding sixth form sector in schools. However, schools in my constituency, which are growing fast, have raised a question with me. For example, Sheldon school, a very successful school in Chippenham, will have 80 more pupils in the sixth form next year than it has this year, but because of the new Learning and Skills Council formula the funding is based on last year's figures. That means that the school will be £200,000 out of pocket. Will the Minister look at the LSC funding formula to ensure that fast-expanding schools—Corsham school is another example from my constituency—do not experience a perverse disincentive to increase numbers in their sixth form? They should have an incentive to increase the numbers.

Jacqui Smith: Earlier this week we discussed the school funding regulations in a Committee Room. There was cross-party consensus that the move to funding schools on the basis of lagged pupil numbers helped to provide certainty in budgets and that that was an important criterion, but I recognise the specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. I have read the letters from the head teacher of Sheldon school. Although we have put into the system safeguards such as the cash floor of sixth-form funding for the coming years and the overall school minimum funding guarantee, there may well be specific, exceptional circumstances—possibly such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentions—where it would be appropriate for the Learning and Skills Council to consider how such exceptional growth could be met. It is working on proposals, and it will present options to Ministers in the near future.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend describe the procedures that new trust schools must go through to set up sixth forms and the approvals that will be necessary where those schools do not have sixth forms already?

Jacqui Smith: As part of the local authority family of maintained schools, any future trust schools would go
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through exactly the same requirements as currently exist; but, of course, we are keen to promote high-quality sixth-form provision as a way to develop choice for young people post 16. That is why we are introducing a presumption for sixth-form expansion, based particularly on those high-performing specialist schools that, very importantly, can also demonstrate that they want to take up a specialism in vocational education, to ensure that we have a greater variety of high-quality opportunities, particularly vocational ones, for the increasing number of young people whom we hope will stay on at school and in training after the age of 16.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Is the Minister aware that many pupils from the most deprived areas of Hull leave the city to attend East Riding schools, including those in my constituency? Those pupils bring with them none of the funding that is rightly allocated to support people from deprived areas. What steps is she taking to ensure that money intended to support deprived pupils follows them, whether they are sixth formers or others?

Jacqui Smith: I am sure that the East Riding welcomed the statement I made before Christmas outlining very considerable increases in school funding across the country of 6.8 per cent. per pupil in 2006–07 and 6.7 per cent. per pupil in 2007–08, but perhaps one of the questions that we should also address is how we ensure that parents in Hull feel confident that their children receive quality education in high-quality local schools. We have taken tough action in the past in intervening in respect of local authorities that have not lived up to their responsibility to challenge and support their schools—of course, that included Hull—and we continue to carry on the work that has ensured that schools in disadvantaged areas have improved faster than other schools.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to increase revenue funding for 16 to 19-year-olds, but will she look at capital funding for sixth forms, particularly Great Barr and Hampstead Hall schools in my constituency? They are making a huge investment in keeping on pupils and increasing the number of pupils, but the issue that they have at the moment is with the capital works needed to do so? Will she consider asking local authorities and the Learning and Skills Council to support those sixth forms that want to expand in that way?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course, the considerable investment in constituencies such as his from the building schools for the future programme provides important opportunities not just to add sixth-form provision but to remodel and completely rebuild secondary schools. Last year, we brought together capital funding streams from the Learning and Skills Council and schools capital funding in one clear 16-to-19 capital pot, and I am sure that access to that will be able to support some of the proposals that he and the Government rightly want for his constituency.
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Engineering Courses

4. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): What her policy is on the provision of education courses for engineers; and if she will make a statement. [49940]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Phil Hope): We have established an employer-led sector skills council, the Science Engineering Manufacturing Technologies Alliance—SEMTA—to help shape the provision of learning and training for engineers. SEMTA is currently working on one of the first new specialised diplomas in engineering for 14 to 16-year-olds and is developing sector skills agreements to assess the skill needs of the industry and will inform the engineering teaching supplied in colleges and higher education.

Mark Pritchard: Is the Minister aware that Harper Adams university college, Telford college of art and technology and the university of Wolverhampton have a proud tradition of supplying engineers to the public and private sectors in Shropshire? But is he also aware that his colleagues in other Departments are slowly dismantling the defence and manufacturing sectors in my constituency, so what is the point of young people going into engineering, particularly engineering apprenticeships, if there are no jobs for them?

Phil Hope: I congratulate the colleges to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which are doing an excellent job providing good-quality training for young people as a result of the extra funding we made available to schools and colleges in his constituency. I understand his concern and that of others about decisions being made by the Ministry of Defence, and I am sure that the MOD will take full account of his representations and those of other Members with similar concerns. I had the privilege of making presentations to the top apprentices in the armed forces; they are fabulous young people, doing a brilliant job and providing much more security for our nation because their talents are in our armed services.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend constantly talk up all engineering skills? I thank him for the very good speech he made last night at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which itself wants to promote engineering, unlike Opposition colleagues. There is a huge skills gap and we must address it.

Phil Hope: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. It is true that every product and every activity of this country relies on the skills of engineers. Without engineers the bright ideas that we know are out there stay on the drawing board. Engineers are absolutely essential to the future of our nation's economy and the prosperity of all our businesses. Last night's reception at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers was excellent; many MPs attended to support engineering in the UK. I pay tribute to them and to companies such as Rolls-Royce and initiatives such as formula student, where universities work with businesses to make a real success of promoting the UK's engineering skills.

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): I hope that the House will join me in congratulating
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Harlington school in my constituency on achieving specialist science college status this week. However, we are all concerned that a number of university science departments have closed over the past two years. Will the Minister explain the rationale of establishing science colleges while closing university science departments?

Phil Hope: I am delighted that Harlington school has benefited from extra Government investment to support science in schools. There is a positive and growing relationship between universities and industry in developing new courses to ensure that the industry recruits the type of students, especially engineers, as well as science and manufacturing specialists, who can provide new developments. Partnership is the most important thing—between universities and organisations and companies such as Rolls-Royce and Airbus. Such partnerships will ensure that we deliver both quality and the quantity of skilled engineers that our country requires.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): As a former chemical engineer, I too congratulate the Minister on his speech at the institution. As the Government are seriously considering and exploring the nuclear option for our energy programme, has my hon. Friend assessed whether we have adequate undergraduates studying physics and nuclear engineering to deliver that option?

Phil Hope: Again, I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks—perhaps I should quit while I am ahead.

We are attracting more undergraduates to science courses. This year, there has been a 10 per cent. increase in the number of applicants for science courses, so we are making huge progress. Perhaps some of the science and engineering skills that those young people are developing will be needed by the Conservatives as they develop their new flip-flop machine.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Minister's leader in waiting—the Chancellor—says that our

but the Leitch review reported that even if the Government meet their target for skills by 2020,

will be without the equivalent numeracy skills. It said that the UK will be

for skills.

As the Minister said, engineering is key, yet the sector skills council says that registrations for level 3 qualifications have dropped by 36 per cent. and that level 4 certifications are at "a very low level". No wonder the national employer skills survey shows that skills shortages account for 13,000 vacancies in engineering alone. Why has not the Minister grasped that we have a skills crisis, and furthermore—

Mr. Speaker: Order. There should be only one supplementary.

Phil Hope: The hon. Gentleman is right to identify a real challenge that faces us. We have trebled the number
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of apprenticeships from 70,000 a year to 255,000 a year, and completion rates are going up, too, but we need to go further. We have delivered 3.5 million courses in basic skills and 1 million adults have received basic skills qualifications. The train2gain programme will provide free training for employers, up to a full level 2 qualification, and we are trialling level 3 pilots in the north-west and the west midlands to provide training for employers that need level 3 qualifications. We are delivering a huge and ambitious skills strategy, so I hope that we will have support from both sides of the House to ensure that it is a success.

Mr. Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab): I am sorry to have missed what sounds like an excellent speech by the Minister last night. May I assure him that there remains in the west midlands a first-class network of engineering, aerospace and technological skills? Will he assure his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence that if they locate defence training projects in the region, they will be able to plug into an excellent network of engineering skills and training resources?

Phil Hope: I will draw the remarks of my hon. Friend and others to the attention of my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. The important thing is that we drive forward the skills agenda as it is appropriate to local areas. We know, for example, that engineering and manufacturing are a priority for future funding in the west midlands. We thus need to ensure that when we roll out the level 3 training pilots engineering becomes a particular priority so that we can deliver the engineers whom we need to make our economy a success.

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