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Sure Start/Children's Fund

5. Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): If she will make a statement on the future of Sure Start and the children's fund. [49941]

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): Sure Start children's centres and the children's fund are central to the Government's determination to improve outcomes and life chances for all young children. Children's centres deliver a wide range of integrated services for under-fives and their families. By 2010, there will be 3,500 centres. Local authorities are responsible for their development, with partners. The children's fund is designed to ensure that preventive approaches are delivered locally, and delivery plans for children's fund partnerships have been agreed for the period up to 2008.

Mr. Rogerson: I should perhaps declare a non-pecuniary interest in that my family has attended Sure Start events, which have been excellent, and my sister works for the children's fund. Both schemes have provided excellent opportunities for people in my constituency, but they suffer from two problems. First, when delivering a scheme in a rural area with many small communities, they have a real funding problem if they are to provide the same opportunities in multiple locations. Secondly, they are insecure about what will happen when funding ends in 2008. Will the Minister agree to meet representatives from North Cornwall to discuss the situation?

Beverley Hughes: I am really pleased that the hon. Gentleman and his family and friends have reaped the
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benefits of our investment in Sure Start. Sure Start is going well in North Cornwall precisely for the reasons that he identifies. Sure Start local programmes are pushing the boundaries to reach wider rural areas and helping us to learn how to reach small communities. There will be considerable investment in Cornwall for the next two phases of development of children's centres, with just about £7.5 million in revenue and capital for phase 1 and a further £5.5 million for phase 2. He can expect further children's centres in his constituency due to those phases, and I would be happy to meet a delegation.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I represent some of the most deprived wards in the country, where Sure Start and children's centres have made a real difference, not only in terms of education. An holistic approach is taken: children's health is improving and so is the community. I ask my right hon. Friend to continue to target such centres on the most deprived wards in the land.

Beverley Hughes: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As the House knows, we are moving from an area-based local programme targeted on disadvantaged areas to a mainstream integrated service for all under-fives, with a children's centre in every community by 2010. However, I assure my hon. Friend that our focus for the full offering of fully integrated services will remain on disadvantaged areas, because we know that if we help disadvantaged children to improve their attainment early in their lives that will continue through their primary and secondary years and improve their life chances. The Government are determined to do that.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): There are three Sure Starts in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that local authorities are fully engaged in the work of Sure Starts and are able effectively to monitor and support the work of Sure Starts in their area?

Beverley Hughes: Yes, I do. Through the children's trust arrangements, local authorities are taking a lead. I want local authorities to deliver the plans that they have set out for all the children's centres in their areas over the next four or five years. It is also important, however, that local authorities accept their responsibility for working with private and voluntary sector partners and with health and employment services, because the integration that we need in children's centres requires all those other partners to be fully involved. I expect local authorities to take a lead in ensuring that that happens.

Teaching Accommodation (St. Ambrose College)

6. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): What assessment she has made of the adequacy of teaching accommodation at St. Ambrose college in Altrincham; and if she will make a statement. [49942]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle): My Department is aware of the issues surrounding the suitability of the school's accommodation. Officials have met the head teacher and the Department's architects have visited the
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school. Following that visit, the school and the local authority used some funding from existing capital programmes to address pupils' immediate needs in respect of the dilapidated classrooms at the school.

Mr. Brady: I am glad that the Minister is aware of the problems at St. Ambrose college. Ofsted said that the teaching accommodation is

but that the school is none the less excellent. Parents at the school have raised £500,000 toward the necessary improvements and they were disappointed that the bid for DFES assistance was turned down. Will the hon. Lady give me and the parents an undertaking that when another bid is submitted her Department will consider it as a matter of urgency, and that she will assist efforts to provide a proper, functioning teaching environment at St. Ambrose?

Maria Eagle: I understand the disappointment felt by the school and its head teacher about its bid not being successful in the latest round for targeted capital funding. I am perfectly happy to advise the school, through the hon. Gentleman, on how to improve its bid, which was somewhat disappointing. There were more than 200 bids from the voluntary aided sector alone and, unfortunately, St. Ambrose's bid came too low to receive money. That is not to say that the school cannot improve its bid in future and give itself a better chance of receiving the funds that it requires.

Schools White Paper

7. Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): What assessment she has made of the Education and Skills Committee report on the schools White Paper; and if she will make a statement. [49943]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): I have read with great interest the Select Committee report on the White Paper. I was pleased that the report accepted the key building blocks of the White Paper and welcomed without reservation our proposed reforms in personalisation, discipline and behaviour, and improving the quality of teaching and leadership. The report also contained a number of detailed recommendations, to which I shall respond in due course.

Mr. Wilson : Having started the process of making concessions to her Back-Bench rebels, will the right hon. Lady share with the House the Government's red lines in the education White Paper and the soon-to-be-published education Bill?

Ruth Kelly: Of course I can share those red lines. We want to raise standards and increase investment in our schools, and give schools the freedom and flexibility that they need to forge links with one another and external partners to do the best for every single child in every school throughout the country. Those have always been our red lines. They remain so, and I am completely committed to carrying them through to legislation.
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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend knows that I am not often described as a Back-Bench rebel. The Select Committee produced a majority report, and we were proud of its quality. We are quite pleased with much of my right hon. Friend's response, but will she assure the House that she is still willing to improve the Bill in the next few days before it is prepared and we receive a copy, I believe, next week? Will she assure the House that the full import of the Bill will ban all interviews, and schools will have to obey the admissions code?

Ruth Kelly: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Select Committee report. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) and his colleagues decided to play politics with a constructive submission to the debate. I remind my hon. Friend—I have great respect for him and for his contribution to the debate—that we do not yet have a Bill. However, he is quite right—in future, schools must follow the admissions code, and they will not be allowed to interview. We will have a co-ordinated admissions system. I want excellence for every child in the country, but I also want a system that is fair and is seen to be fair. That is why I could clarify for my hon. Friend and his Committee the fact that the system will promote both excellence and equity.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Secretary of State clearly wants to improve the quality of education. Does she believe that the Select Committee report gave sufficient thought to the teaching in schools of technical and engineering education, which is critical to the future economy of this country, particularly manufacturing? I accept that the Secretary of State is genuine in what she is seeking to do, but does she believe that sufficient emphasis and attention has been given to technical and engineering teaching in our schools?

Ruth Kelly: Yes. I am delighted to remind the House that the education Bill will include provisions to introduce a new vocational curriculum in our schools, which, over time, will introduce 14 specialised diplomas, including one in engineering. By 2008, every child in the country will have the opportunity to study one of five specialised diplomas while we work to deliver all 14 in a system that will require schools to collaborate with one another to provide the best possible personalised education and vocational education for our pupils.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that the Select Committee report recommended the introduction of a system of benchmarking for secondary school pupils receiving free school meals or for parents who receive the working families tax credit. That is a way not of introducing a quota system but of introducing an added-value measure that will improve the social mix in all secondary schools. Will she give serious consideration to incorporating that measure in the Bill when it is introduced in the House?
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Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is right. Neither he nor I want a system of quotas for schools. We want every school to take seriously their responsibility to widen access to ensure that every child, no matter what their family type or background, has the opportunity to apply for admission. There should not be any barriers outside the school that say, "Sorry, you're not welcome here." The role of the admissions forum, which was developed after the 2002 legislation, is very important, not just in co-ordinating admissions informally with schools and the local authority but in reporting cases in which schools breach the admissions code to the adjudicator.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I welcome the Secretary of State's letter to the Chairman of the Select Committee as a step in the right direction, but why, when she talks of giving schools more freedom, is she retaining so much control in Whitehall? Why cannot all schools be given more freedom on the curriculum, for example, and why must a local authority that wants to compete to build a new community school ask for her permission? Would not real reform see her powers cut, not increased?

Ruth Kelly: I am glad the hon. Gentleman has welcomed my clarifications to the Chairman of the Select Committee. I hope the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will now give a commitment to back the Bill. He is right. There is already significant freedom over the curriculum through the national curriculum. Schools have the ability to innovate and they can apply to the Secretary of State for the power to innovate further. In the Bill we will propose that all trust schools within a particular trust are able to take up the power to innovate, so they can experiment with different approaches in the curriculum if they can make a strong educational case for doing so. Within the 14 to 19 curriculum, working perhaps with local business foundations and businesses where they can secure increased investment, schools as groups of schools may decide to come together to offer a different curriculum to their students. That is the sort of case that we will consider on its merits.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Of the many interesting policies described in the White Paper, how many will require primary legislation?

Ruth Kelly: We have set out all the measures that will require primary legislation in the annexe to the White Paper, but in addition I have committed the Government to banning interviewing, so there will be more measures requiring legislation than were originally set out in the annexe. The list is comprehensive, although my hon. Friend is right to suggest that what we are doing is building on what is seen to be working. We are building on the governance model of voluntary aided schools. We are building on the relationship with external partners seen in the specialist school system. We are building on the relationship between schools that is seen in the academies programme as well, allowing them the freedom and flexibility to develop in a way that drives up standards across the board. We are also introducing safeguards in primary legislation to make sure that the system is fair.
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Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): Is not the central message of the Government's White Paper that the future of education is not a monopoly of conventional local authority schools, but much more diversity of provision, with local authorities increasingly acting as commissioners? That is why I hope the meeting that the Secretary of State has at Downing street today with potential backers of trusts is a success. It is also why I was pleasantly surprised to see from her briefing note to the parliamentary Labour party that the announcements that she made the other day

We hope that that is true, but the trouble is that every one of her so-called clarifications looks very much like a retreat. Does she not recognise that there is a clear majority across the House of Commons for real reform of public services? Instead of prevaricating and settling for second best, will the Secretary of State pledge today that there will be no more concessions?

Ruth Kelly: I am glad the hon. Gentleman welcomes our commitment to diversity in the school system, which has driven up standards in every school across the country over the past eight years. He is right that local authorities will have a strategic role. The best local authorities already have a strategic role in education, and I want that delivered in every local authority across the country. He asks me whether we are diluting the reforms. We are not. We are making sure that excellence is accompanied by equity—that parents choose schools, rather than schools choosing parents. If the hon. Gentleman says that our commitment to no new selection in schools is watering down our proposals, all Labour Members and the wider public will see what he and his colleagues stand for.

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