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House of Commons

Thursday 27 April 2006

The House met at half-past Ten o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]



Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Personalised Learning

2. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): At which children her policy of personalised learning in schools will be targeted; and if she will make a statement. [66204]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): All children can, and should, benefit from increasingly personalised learning. We have announced a total of £990 million of additional funding by 2007–08 for that purpose. All schools will receive extra funding, but we will target those facing the greatest challenges—schools with pupils from deprived backgrounds or with low prior attainment.

Jim Dobbin: In Heywood and Middleton, the local education authority intends to spend some of that money developing new technologies to help and support children at home, because some children have struggled in the transition from primary to secondary school. Is that the kind of project that the Secretary of State is willing to support?

Ruth Kelly: Yes, indeed. The project in Heywood and Middleton is innovative, and my hon. Friend is right to point to the difficulties that some children face in making the transition from primary school to secondary school. Alongside the funding for personalised learning, we have recently set out plans to invest £40 million in parent support advisers, specifically to enable secondary schools quickly to identify those children who face the greatest challenges and to work with them and their
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families in order to support them in secondary school. The scheme outlined by my hon. Friend is another interesting way to try to address those issues.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Secretary of State help my constituents? A number of pupils have been left without any education for months on end, and I recently found out about a case in which a pupil was left for a year without any education. What measures will the Secretary of State take to improve the situation?

Ruth Kelly: As the hon. Gentleman knows, local authorities will have a duty, which is set out in the Education and Inspections Bill, to identify all those children who are missing education and to provide them with an appropriate education and their families with a choice of education. He has made a very serious point; we   must tackle truancy, which may lead to children becoming completely disaffected. We must also provide opportunities for those children who have been excluded from school to have a decent and appropriate education, which is why our investment in pupil referral units is so important. We must continue to raise the quality of education provided in those units, so that pupils who are being educated in them achieve good results.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend take particular note of the research by the Institute for Public Policy Research on personalised learning and its effect on social mobility? Yesterday, we celebrated in the House of Commons the second anniversary of the launch of volunteer reading schemes. Both the research and the volunteer reading schemes indicate the importance of training intermediaries and we must ensure that we have the best qualified people in this country, whether they are volunteers or teachers, to make personalised learning work.

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is right. He must have read the speech that I made yesterday to the IPPR on social mobility, in which I drew attention to the fact that if we have catch-up lessons for those children who start to fall behind and push to their maximum potential those children who demonstrate real ability in the classroom through genuine personalised learning, we can make a significant difference to not only the number of children who obtain five good GCSEs, but the progress that children make later in life, which relates to social mobility. He is also right to draw attention to the potential of reading schemes in primary school and later. The research conducted on reading recovery is powerful, but so is the evidence on synthetic phonics, which is why we have emphasised that children should be taught synthetic phonics first and fast, which will not only improve the quality of reading, but help to close the class gap.

World Skills Championship

3. Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): What support her Department will be giving to the world skills championship to be held in 2011; and if she will make a statement. [66205]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Phil Hope): Hosting the world skills championship in London will offer world skills a global stage, and it will also bring economic and social rewards to the UK. The brochure links world skills 2011 with the 2012 Olympics. That link between excellence in sport and excellence in skills forms a unique offer to world skills, and it will help us to change public attitudes in this country about skills. I should add that the Government are match funding and underwriting the whole event.

Ms Smith: I am sure that the whole House will join the Minister in hoping that the UK bid triumphs in Melbourne in May. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what role he thinks that world skills 2011 could play in meeting the distinctive skills needs of each region of the UK?

Phil Hope: I attended the world skills championship in Finland last year. It was genuinely inspiring as we saw young people competing to demonstrate their skills at the highest level, benchmarking themselves against the rest of the world. I hope that we have full support across this House for our bid to host the championship. Whatever the result in Melbourne on 10 May, we intend to re-energise skills competitions over the next five years so that we really celebrate success. We are going to create a new framework at local, regional, national and international levels to ensure that we raise the profile of skills, raise aspirations and improve supply. In Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and all the English regions, we can target skills competitions around skills needs in the different regions and nations of this country.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): We welcome the bid to stage the world skills championship. However, the Minister knows that, as the leaked report has shown, Britain faces a skills crisis, particularly a language skills crisis. A Secondary Heads Association survey reveals that the number of post-14 pupils studying languages is plummeting and only a fifth of 15-year-olds now study a foreign language. A Government-sponsored report shows that Britain is bottom of the class in Europe for language skills—28th out of 28 countries. In Olympic terms, the Minister is the Eddie the Eagle of language skills. Given that failure, in what specific ways did the Government take account of language skills when designing the new vocational diplomas?

Phil Hope: The Education and Inspections Bill, which the hon. Gentleman and I are currently discussing as we take it through Parliament, will give us the opportunity to discuss the future of the national curriculum, including the importance that the Government place on encouraging young people to take up language opportunities, not least in primary schools as well as secondary schools, and to make modern foreign languages attractive and interesting for young people across the piece.

I want to emphasise that if we succeed in our bid to host the world skills championship, which will attract representatives from 45 countries from across the world to London, young people from Newham will act as
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volunteers, teaming up with each country's team of young people to provide them with a tailor-made service, including being able to speak to them and support them in the languages of their nations. That is because we have such a rich cultural diversity of young people and nations in our capital city of London.

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