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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I may have misheard my right hon. Friend, but, from reading the vast amount of documentation that we have had since the Chancellor's Budget speech, I understand that the figure that she gave is the added amount that the Chancellor announced. When combined with the amount already being spent, the figure is much larger, is it not?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The amounts that I have just outlined are in addition to the amount for personalisation already allocated through the direct schools grant. That brings the total over the next two years—just for personalised learning—to more than £1 billion. As he will know, last week I asked Christine Gilbert, the chief executive of Tower Hamlets council, to lead an expert review team to investigate how we can take forward the vision for outstanding, tailored teaching and learning. Her report, which is due towards the end of the year, will set out a vision for the next generation—teaching and learning in 2020.

As the Chancellor said last week, investment in schools is the most important and pivotal investment that we can make for our economy and our future. However, I am disappointed to tell the House that on the central issue in British politics today, the Conservatives have failed to rise to the challenge. They have never been prepared to make
 
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the investment that is necessary for every child and for the nation's future prosperity, and now they are unable to make up their minds whether to back the investment announced in the Budget. I am delighted to see the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) on the Front Bench, waiting to hear what I am going to say. On Budget day, when she was asked whether the Conservatives, in government, would spend less on education, she said, "Um. Ah. Certainly." Under pressure, talking about Tory cuts, she added:

However, later that night on "Newsnight", the shadow Chancellor—who might just be waking up to the fact that more investment in schools is needed and vital for our country's future prosperity, and that his party might also need to be back on the centre ground in British politics—said he would happily back our plans for investment in education. That is a party in chaos—yet another flip-flop.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): As the Secretary of State is being party political, may I remind her that one of the Government's key promises in 1997 was that class sizes in primary schools would be under 30? However, by 2001 that key pledge was abandoned and has thus not been met. Any aspiration must be matched against the reality of what the Government say and what they do not deliver.

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman is talking complete rubbish. Our party's election manifesto in 1997 said clearly that for every five, six and seven-year-old, class sizes would have a cap of 30. Not only have we delivered that pledge in government, but we continue to invest in teachers and support staff to reduce class sizes. Once again the Conservative party is failing to prove itself to be a credible party of opposition when we discuss education.

John Bercow rose—

Ruth Kelly: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who I know will talk fluently and at length on the issue.

John Bercow: I will not talk at length because I do not suppose that I shall be allowed to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The right hon. Lady has made it clear that she wants to focus on the most disadvantaged young people and, clearly, specificity is of the essence. Given that children in young offenders institutions are receiving on average only eight hours education a week, and that in the interests of both reducing recidivism and increasing opportunity for those disadvantaged young people we need to do better, what specific financial commitment is she making to increase provision for them?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Gentleman might not have thought that that was long, but I certainly did.

Ruth Kelly: I am delighted that I gave way to the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) because he makes an extremely important point. If we are to reduce
 
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recidivism, we need to invest in offender learning. I draw the attention of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues and the House to the Green Paper that we recently published on reducing reoffending through skills and employment. We outlined in the Green Paper our commitments and the fact that the eight hours that are provided to offenders need to be increased in both volume and quality to ensure that all offenders learn the skills that they need to get a job after leaving the institution. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government take that extremely seriously.

On the point about flip-flops that I was addressing, I thought for a moment that the Tory policy on vouchers to subsidise private education had been scrapped. However, I am now not quite so sure because just the other day, when browsing the net on my personal computer, I came across an interview on Mumsnet with a certain David Cameron, or Dave. Dave said that he wanted

that sounds like vouchers to me. It is anything to anyone. I urge anyone in the House who is interested to visit www.flip-flop.com.

Schools are at the heart of our vision for a world-class education system, but they are only one part of it.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ruth Kelly: I am now dealing with further education. If the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss further education, I will be glad to take his intervention—[Interruption.] I have moved on.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con) rose—

Ruth Kelly: I will, of course, give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Willetts: Before the Secretary of State moves on from schools, may I ask her about a matter that is of great concern to many parents? What assessment has she made of the effect on schools of the strike action that is planned tomorrow? We have heard of at least one London borough that expects a quarter of its schools to close. Will she join me in condemning any strike action that affects the most vulnerable people in the community, including, for example, children with special educational needs who will not be taken to their schools?

Ruth Kelly: Clearly, schools must make decisions on health and safety grounds that are right for their staff and pupils. I urge any staff involved to think seriously about the consequences for schools, especially those that serve special needs children.

Our schools are at the heart of our vision for a world-class education system, but they are only one part of it. Labour Members are clear that further education is also crucial. It is the real engine of social mobility in this country. It gives a second chance to those who missed out at school and helps people to build new careers. It enables those stuck in unfulfilling jobs to retrain so that they can get on.
 
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Today, I have published a White Paper on the future of further education. It sets out an ambitious programme of investment and reform and gives the college sector the status and attention it deserves. The Government have chosen to invest in the college sector, just as we have in our schools. Since 1997, there has been a 48 per cent. real-terms increase in investment. An additional £350 million of capital over two years for colleges was announced in last year's Budget, and new resources are set out in this year's Budget and today's White Paper.

Labour Members have an ambitious programme of investment for our colleges—we have made our choice. The investment that we have already delivered has paid off. More people are joining FE courses—6 million now compared with 4 million in 1997—and more young people and adults are starting and completing good qualifications every year. However, we face unprecedented challenges, so we must do much more. Our post-16 staying-on rate is one of the worst in the industrialised world, and we need to transform the skills of adults if we are to remain competitive in the new globalised economy, with new players such as India and China becoming more powerful every day. Standing still is simply not an option.

I want to see all young people in education or training. I want all adults to be able to continue to learn new and valuable skills and all employers to fulfil their responsibilities to train their work forces. Today's White Paper will make a reality of those ambitions. There will be £25 million to fund a new entitlement to a free first level 3 qualification for all 19 to 25-year-olds, together with an extra £11 million to provide maintenance support to help with living costs. There will be £11 million to help colleges to improve their work force by recruiting mid-career professionals from industry and top-flight graduates. There will be £20 million to address the issues identified by the women and work commission in facing up to the scandal of unequal pay.


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