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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 20 March 2006


Economic and Financial Affairs Council

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): At its meeting of 14 March 2006 the Economic and Financial Affairs Council adopted a key issues paper on economic reform to contribute to the European Council on 23–24 March.

The Council adopted a report to contribute to the Spring European Council on proposals by the European Investment Bank for promoting growth and employment in the EU.

The Council held an exchange of views on progress under the EU's better regulation initiative. It took note of progress made by the Commission and of a note from the presidency on reducing the administrative costs of Community programmes and measures and on experiences at national level.

ECOFIN noted a joint report on social protection and social inclusion, which had been previously adopted by the Employment Council.

The Council adopted opinions on the stability programmes of Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands and Portugal and on the convergence programmes of Cyprus, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and the United Kingdom.

The Council adopted a decision, under article 104(9) of the treaty, concerning the German excessive deficit. ECOFIN also agreed Conclusions endorsing progress made by Italy in correcting its excessive deficit.

ECOFIN approved a recommendation, to be forwarded to the European Parliament, on the discharge to be given to the Commission for implementation of the EU's general budget for 2004.

The Council adopted Conclusions regarding the preparation of the EU's General Budget for 2007.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), represented the UK.


Project Allenby/Connaught

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): I would like to inform the House about progress with Project Allenby/Connaught. This private finance initiative (PFI) project will allow for the redevelopment of large areas of the estate in Aldershot garrison and garrisons in the Salisbury plain area, and for the provision of a wide range of support services. It is key to the delivery of strategic defence review barrack plot and is the largest estates based PFI project the Ministry of Defence has ever undertaken.
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Funding of the project will be through the marketing of two series of bonds on the financial markets, and I am pleased to report that this phase has now started with the issuance of a preliminary prospectus. This process is expected to take two to three weeks and I will make a further statement to the House once financial close, the point at which funding for the project has been secured, and the contract with our preferred bidder, Aspire Defence Ltd. takes effect.


Beacon Scheme

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): We are announcing today the names of those authorities who have been awarded beacon status in round seven of the scheme. Sixty one applications from 85 authorities have been successful across 10 different themes. Ministers made their decisions following recommendations from the independent Advisory Panel on Beacons. Full details of round seven beacons and information on their excellence can be found in the publication "New Light", copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of the House. Beacon status is awarded for excellence and innovation in service delivery in specific themes and successful authorities receive a share of £3 million to help them work with other authorities to transfer their best practice.

We are also launching round eight of the scheme which invites authorities to apply for beacon status in 10 new themes that reflect the priorities of local and central government and communities across the country.

The application brochure, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of the House, sets out these themes and instructions on how to apply, including the detailed criteria that will be used to assess applications, and what being a beacon will mean. Following a rigorous assessment process including visits to shortlisted authorities, the Advisory Panel on Beacons will make recommendations to Ministers early next year and beacons will be announced in March 2007.

The beacon scheme provides a remarkably popular and successful way of both celebrating and promoting best practice in local government. It is an important element of the local government modernisation agenda—helping to deliver high quality public services. Beacons work with the Improvement and Development Agency to ensure other authorities across the country can learn from their excellence.


Early Reading (Teaching Methods)

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): Jim Rose has today published the final report of his review into the teaching of early reading, which I invited him to undertake in June 2005. It builds on the interim report published on 1 December 2005.

I am very grateful to Mr. Rose and his team for providing such an authoritative analysis of these complex issues, and for distilling them into a set of recommendations that enable us to help schools and
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settings move forward with confidence and clarity. The report sets out clearly the importance of high-quality and enjoyable systematic phonics instruction, on which the great majority of children can make a good start by the age of five. It emphasises the need for a carefully managed programme of training to ensure that we have a school and early years work force that is fully equipped to deliver phonics instruction of the high quality our children deserve. The report states that the most important way to raise standards is through "quality first" teaching, but that schools need to back this up with a systematic approach to interventions to make sure that they can intervene early to prevent children from falling behind.

I am pleased to accept all of the recommendations in the report, and I will ensure that they are implemented through a programme of training for teachers over the next two years, revising the framework for teaching literacy, and the professional standards for teachers and the wider workforce. I also want to ensure that both the foundation stage and key stage 1 curricula make clear that synthetic phonics should be the prime approach used in teaching all children to read, as Mr. Rose has recommended, and I will consult on how to remove any ambiguity in them. I am very pleased that Mr. Rose has agreed to help me assess how well the recommendations he has made are being implemented, by offering his advice on progress from time to time.

Implementing the report's recommendations will form part of the Government's drive to raise standards in literacy yet higher through effective personalised learning for all children. Personalised learning is at the heart of our effort to raise standards in both primary and secondary education, and will be the focus of the "Teaching and Learning 2020" review, led by Christine Gilbert, that was launched last week.

Mr. Rose's report is a timely reminder of how important learning to read is for children's educational, social and emotional development. Great improvements have been made in the teaching of reading since the introduction of the Government's national literacy strategy, and more children than ever before are reaching the expected standard at the end of primary school: 84 per cent. last summer compared to 67 per cent. in 1997. The report says that this happened because the national literacy strategy,

I am proud of what has been achieved, but we must not stop raising standards. The report provides compelling support for the argument that raising standards and helping more children to read should be the first priority of every primary school, which requires strong leadership from the governors, head teachers and senior managers.

The report shows clearly that learning to read can and should be fun, through a programme of high quality phonics teaching. It points to much evidence of good practice in schools and early years settings, including in the early reading development pilots that I announced alongside Jim Rose's review. It is clear that good teaching means fidelity to a systematic programme of phonics teaching, using multi-sensory approaches to learning and placing this within a rich language curriculum. I am grateful to Mr. Rose for the proposals for a new "simple model of reading" to put these ideas
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into effect and will ask the primary national strategy to implement this through the forthcoming revised framework for teaching literacy.

Mr. Rose's analysis makes it clear that children should start phonics by the age of five, and that those who are ready to start earlier should do so. He states that the introduction of phonic work is a matter for professional judgment based on structured observations and assessments of children's capabilities. The early reading development pilots are already showing that systematic phonic instruction by the age of five can be done successfully in schools and early years settings exploiting the power of play, story, songs, rhymes and drama. I will ensure that the conclusions of the review are reflected in the new early years foundation stage.

I agree with the report's conclusion that these changes will require a carefully managed programme of training for teachers and the wider school and early years workforce. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) is already revising the professional standards for teachers, and developing standards for the wider workforce, with supporting guidance and requirements. These will reflect the review's recommendations and set the requirements which training must meet. Mr. Rose has acknowledged the excellent contribution that the primary national strategy has made to improving the teaching of reading and the use of systematic phonics. I will ensure, through the strategy, that teachers' training is enhanced in accordance with the report's recommendations and the new framework for teaching literacy over the next academic year. The quality of initial teacher training (ITT) has also improved significantly, with 80 per cent. of trainees showing good or very good subject knowledge in English. But I, and the TDA, share Mr. Rose's view that ITT providers need to look again at how to equip newly qualified teachers with the skills to teach phonics. The TDA and the primary national strategy will ensure that support is available for ITT providers to help them implement the new standards over the next two years, and I will ask Ofsted to review the quality of training in the teaching of reading that ITT providers offer at the end of that period.

Although by far the majority of children reach the expected standard in reading at the end of primary school, there remains a significant group who do not, and who need extra help to achieve the expected standard. I agree with the report's conclusion that for most children, the most important thing their school can provide them with is "quality first" whole class teaching. Alongside this the report also endorses the primary national strategy's approach to the deployment of a range of "wave 2" and "wave 3" interventions to support those children who find it more difficult to learn to read, or who have more serious learning disabilities. I am pleased that Mr. Rose found that some of the leading edge interventions and associated training currently offered to schools are of a very high quality. In particular he praised the training for teachers offered by programmes such as reading recovery and those provided by the Dyslexia Institute. We will continue to support schools with guidance on how best provision and practice are matched to different types of SEN. As they implement the new teaching frameworks, every school will need to think through their approach to interventions, ensuring that it is founded on quality first teaching, that interventions are carefully managed as
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part of the wider curriculum, and that the school takes a systematic approach to identifying and meeting the needs of children who are at risk of falling behind before this happens.

The report makes clear that schools and teachers have the capacity to implement its recommendations, and that many are already doing so, supported by materials from the primary national strategy and others. I am confident that with appropriate training and support from the strategy, all schools will be able to teach reading to the standards of the best observed in the course of this review.

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