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National College for School Leadership

14. Mr. Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the contribution of the National College for School Leadership to improving professional development of head teachers. [66217]

The Minister for Schools (Jacqui Smith): The National College for School Leadership has a pivotal role to play in equipping our school leaders with the skills and support that they need to achieve our ambition of having a world-class education system. We have agreed a balanced scorecard with the college, which sets out clear criteria against which its success will be measured. I have termly meetings with the chair and chief executive of the college to review progress.

Mr. McFadden: Does the Minister agree that strong leadership in schools is vital in raising standards and, most importantly, in raising aspirations, so does she welcome the fact that 14,000 candidates have completed the headship qualification since 2001? Will she ensure that the structural changes implemented through the Education and Inspections Bill are equally matched by a departmental focus on the importance of school leadership?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the 14,000 heads and prospective heads who have been able to achieve that qualification through the National College for School Leadership. He is absolutely right that school leadership is fundamental, which is why I am so pleased about Ofsted's recent finding that 75 per cent. of leadership and management is good or better, and that the current generation of school leaders is the best ever. He is right to say that the provisions in the Education and Inspections Bill, especially the opportunity for schools to bring in external partners to help to develop governance and leadership, are an important step forward. I can give him an assurance that the Government will continue to support school leaders, not least through the National College for School Leadership—which, of course, Opposition Members would have abolished had they won the general election.
 
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Classroom Discipline

15. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): If she will make a statement on current standards of classroom discipline. [66219]

The Minister for Schools (Jacqui Smith): Most pupils behave well most of the time, and Ofsted reports that behaviour is at least satisfactory at more than 99 per cent. of primary and 93 per cent. of secondary schools. But any level of misbehaviour is too high, which is why we are implementing a wide-ranging programme to help schools raise standards of behaviour further, including high-quality training materials for staff, extra resources for schools facing the greatest challenges and, in the Education and Inspections Bill, legislation to confirm the power of staff to discipline pupils.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful to the Minister for that full and encouraging reply, but does she watch the programme, "That'll Teach 'Em", which is currently showing on Channel 4? I believe, and certainly many of those who have spoken to me believe, that it provides all the evidence that anyone, even the so-called education experts, can ever want to prove that strict classroom discipline creates the very best, excellent learning environment to which pupils are fully responding. Will she continue to emphasise the importance of discipline, which is good for education and will lead to improved qualifications to enable people to do well in later life?

Jacqui Smith: Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to watch the programme to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I completely agree with him. I think that firm classroom discipline is at the heart of children being able to achieve their potential and learn in our schools. That is why the Steer report—produced by a group that we brought together under the leadership of a very experienced and excellent head teacher—demonstrated that good teaching and learning and good discipline are fundamentally linked. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is the direction in which all our moves on both behaviour and improving the quality of teaching are going.

SOLICITOR-GENERAL

The Solicitor-General was asked—

Rape

19. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on a review of sentences for those found guilty of rape. [66195]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): May I first welcome you back to your place, Mr. Speaker? This is the first opportunity that I have had to do so since you returned after Easter.

I have discussed with the Director of Public Prosecutions a range of issues, including the prosecution of rape, but not specifically as yet the sentences for rape or a review of them.
 
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John Robertson: Rape is one of the most heinous crimes; many young women cannot suffer the results of rape and, sadly, take their own lives. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that cautioning is not an appropriate sentence in rape cases? Can he give an example of such cases where a caution has been given? Will he reassess the sentences applied at present—such as cautioning, which in many instances does not fit the crime—with a view to reviewing the minimum sentences given, so that those involved in such rape cases can feel that justice has been done?

The Solicitor General: A caution is certainly not an appropriate disposal for most rape cases. The proper sentence is a substantial term of imprisonment. Indeed, the average term of imprisonment in rape cases is seven and a half years. The use of a caution is rare and very exceptional. I have asked for some examples of where it has been used and have been given the following examples. A man had been secretly tape-recorded claiming to have raped his sister some years earlier and his sister denied it; a 14-year-old with learning difficulties was alleged to have had sex with a boy and the victim did not want to go to court; a 12-year-old boy encouraged a younger boy to give him oral sex while playing a game of truth or dare with a wider group of boys present; and one offender was a 17-year-old with a mental age of nine. Those are indeed rare and very exceptional cases. A caution can appear on a criminal record in certain cases, and a person may be put on the sex offenders register. However, in most rape cases a prison sentence is the appropriate disposal.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): On the issue of those found guilty of rape, how many foreign nationals released from our prisons who have not been deported were serving sentences for rape?

The Solicitor General: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already made a statement on those issues, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, and the Home Office is looking at all those cases to ensure that the public are better protected.

20. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Crown Prosecution Service on increasing the number of successful prosecutions for rape. [66196]

The Solicitor General: Following work with the Crown Prosecution Service, I issued on 29 March a consultation paper entitled "Convicting Rapists and Protecting Victims", which sets out four proposals that aim to deliver more successful prosecutions by further strengthening the legal framework and improving our care for the victims of rape.

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that response. Is he aware of the Amnesty International survey carried out last year? It showed that a third of people think that if a woman flirts, she has only herself to blame is she is raped, and that a quarter of people believe that the woman is partly to blame if she is wearing revealing clothes or if she is drunk. What is he
 
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going to do to change those attitudes—which will be reflected in juries, for example—and raise the dismally low conviction rate of 6 per cent. for reported rapes?

The Solicitor General: I have indeed seen the Amnesty survey, and it makes disturbing reading. There is a Home Office campaign that seeks to challenge those attitudes. In particular, it highlights the potential penalties and people's absolute right to say no to sex. The proposals that I am currently consulting on will reduce the barriers to prosecution and improve the care of victims. They seek to strengthen the law on consent, enable expert evidence to be called, bring first reports of rape before a jury and allow the greater use of videoed evidence by victims. Securing convictions in rape cases is always difficult, but these proposals will assist the prosecution and, indeed, victims.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): I welcome steps to increase the number of successful prosecutions, but do we not need to ensure that sentencing properly reflects the gravity of the crime? The recent abduction and murder of Attracta Harron was a terrible case that has shocked the entire community in Northern Ireland. The Belfast Telegraph has launched a major campaign to ensure that serious sex offenders serve their full sentences in such cases. The perpetrator of that crime struck against Attracta Harron after being released early after a horrific rape. Will the Solicitor-General ensure that this matter is taken very seriously?

The Solicitor General: I am aware of the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and it is indeed a very serious, difficult and regrettable one. It is a fact that the average sentence for rape convictions is seven and a half years' imprisonment. Many offenders receive substantially more than that for the most serious offences. It is important that we get the balance right in dealing with these cases and ensure that people who are a danger to the public are properly dealt with. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is now ensuring that a proper risk assessment is carried out of persons who have committed offences so that we can assess the risk to the public over the long term and deal with it appropriately.


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