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Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what progress has been made towards the application of streaming in schools as recommended in the Government's 1997 manifesto; and if she will make a statement. 
Jacqui Smith: Our 1997 Manifesto acknowledged that children are not all of the same ability, nor do they learn at the same speed and recommended setting children in classes by ability to maximise progress.
We have encouraged schools to use setting since 1997, and putting children in ability groups within a class is now commonplace in primary schools. In secondary schools the majority of lessons in English, mathematics, science and modern foreign languages are set by ability and evidence suggests that there are more young people taught in ability sets now, than in 1997. However, schools are best placed to know the learning needs of their pupils and must use their own professional judgement to decide when and how to group pupils and set by ability.
We will continue through the National Strategies and our Gifted and Talented programme to offer advice and guidance to schools on classroom practice so that they can make decisions about how to use pupil setting as part of their overall commitment to personalising and tailoring learning to meet the needs of all their pupils.
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Bill Rammell: Using the principles of Resource Accounting and Budgeting, we account for the expected cost of writing off student loans (loans which are not expected to be paid back where amounts are still outstanding after 25 years (except for arrears) or due to the death or permanent disability of the borrower) over the lifetime of the loans in the year the loans are issued. In 200405 we estimate that of the £2.47 billion (face value) loans issued to students in that year, the future write off costs over the lifetime of those loans will be some £124 million. Annual estimates of future write off costs are published within the Department's Resource Accounts.
Mr. Gauke: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what steps she has taken to increase the proportion of student loans repayments due which are collected; and what assessment she has made of the effectiveness of these measures. 
Bill Rammell: Student loans are only repayable when borrowers reach the repayment threshold of £15,000 and most loans are collected by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) through the Pay As You Earn or Self Assessment tax system. There can be delays in matching up the information provided by the Student Loans Company (SLC) about a borrower's loan account with the relevant tax records. The Department has agreed a series of process improvements with both HMRC and the SLC to ensure loan accounts can be linked more effectively to national insurance numbers and there are performance measures for both organisations aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the repayment system. It is too early to give a view on the success of these measures.
We will be measuring efficiency gains from a range of specific initiatives which contribute to our Gershon efficiency target, including increasing the proportion of student loans repayments due which are collected. These are set out in our Efficiency Technical Note. In most cases, the gains are recyclable at the frontline into other activities rather than being clawed back by the Department. The Department is reporting progress towards our overall efficiency target through existing departmental reporting processes. We reported progress towards our target in the Department's Autumn Performance Report and will report further progress in the Departmental Annual Report which we expect to publish in April.
Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what restrictions there are on the Student Loan Company that prevent it from sharing information about its borrowers with (a) other lenders and (b) credit reference agencies. 
For certain loans, disclosure may not be made for marketing or for soliciting custom for goods or services. The Government's policy has been not to share data for credit assessment, since student loans themselves are made without such assessments.
Mr. Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the participation rate of each age group in (a) higher education and (b) first degree courses in (i) Milton Keynes and (ii) England was in each year since 1997. 
Bill Rammell: The current measure of higher education initial participation is the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR), which is used to measure progress towards the Government's aim of having 50 per cent. of 18 to 30-year-olds in higher education by 2010. This covers English-domiciled 17 to 30-year-old first time entrants to HE courses, at UK HEIs and English FECs, who remain on their course for at least six months. The figure is expressed as a proportion of the 17 to 30-year-old population of England. HEIPR cannot be disaggregated by smaller areas, and it cannot be calculated for earlier years than 1999/2000. The latest figures available for England are shown in the following table.
|All HE courses (percentage)|
The latest available figures on participation by local areas were published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in January in Young Participation in England", which is available from their website at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2005/05_03/. HEFCE has calculated a Young Participation Rate (YPR (A)), which is the proportion of young people in a given area who go on to enter full-time higher education at age 18 or 19. This measure covers the period 19972000. This proportion is disaggregated by parliamentary constituency, and the figures for England and North East Milton Keynes are shown in the following table. Young Participation Rates are not available for first degrees.
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|Year cohort aged 18 in:||North East Milton Keynes||England|
Mr. Gauke: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment she has made of the (a) costs incurred and (b) savings made as a consequence of the centralisation and electronic processing of applications for student support. 
Bill Rammell: The Department published the report of the End to End Review of Higher Education Student Finance Delivery in England" on 31 January. Its vision of an online student finance service that meets customer expectations is consistent with the Government's aim to transform the delivery of public services. Of the options in the report for carrying out the assessment and payment of student finance, we are attracted to a centrally-provided service for which a single organisation would be responsible, working with others to ensure we meet the needs of individuals requiring local assistance.
The Department is discussing the report with key stakeholders, including local authority representatives given the potential impact on their staff. I have commissioned a feasibility study into the implementation of its recommendations and options, including an appraisal of the associated costs and benefits. I expect this work to be completed in the spring and will make a further announcement in due course.
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