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Engineering Students

5. Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): What assessment he has made of changes in the number of students studying engineering at university in the past 10 years; and if he will make a statement. [80883]

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The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): In the 1990s, the total number of engineering students in our universities was falling. Since 2002-03, there has been a 6 per cent. increase. We are committed to continuing that trend. Our 10-year science and innovation investment framework sets out our strategy to develop a strong supply of engineers, scientists, and technologists.

Dr. Kumar: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Has he seen the report that the Royal Academy recently published, called “Educating Engineers for the 21st Century: the Industry View”? It concluded that university undergraduate engineering education needs to be completely overhauled. The academy has also asked for stronger collaboration between industry and universities as well as schools so that we can have engineers in the 21st century. I ask my hon. Friend to take those recommendations seriously and implement many of the ideas in the report.

Bill Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend for his detailed interest in these issues. The report is interesting; we are already responding to a number of the issues raised in the research and I know that the academy welcomes many of the steps we are taking. Links and collaboration between the education system and companies are important to ensure that the needs of industry are understood and reflected in the curriculum. In particular, the establishment of the sector skills councils, the move on specialised diplomas and the establishment of foundation degrees are helping us to change the situation.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): But of course the number of first degrees in engineering has fallen from 21,000 in 1996-97 to only 19,500 last year. The Minister will be aware of his Department’s report, “An Assessment of Skill Needs in Engineering”, which concluded that one of the main reasons for that reduction is the limited number studying maths and science subjects at school, where there has been a drop in entries for A-level maths, for example, from 56,000 in 1997 to just 46,000 last year. What steps are the Government taking to boost the uptake of maths and science at A-level? Will they allow the state sector to opt for the IGCSE in maths and the three sciences, which many schools in the independent sector are adopting because of their dissatisfaction with the new curriculum?

Bill Rammell: However the hon. Gentleman plays with the figures, it is a fact that since 2002-03 there has been a 6 per cent. increase in the number of students of engineering. That increase is on the record and it is important. Undoubtedly, we need to stimulate greater interest and demand at school in the stem subjects. A range of initiatives is in place to achieve that, and there is some evidence of improvement. However, we also have to enthuse young people about the importance of science, and some of the changes that we are developing in the curriculum to get young people to look at the processes of science rather than just learning by rote will be important. We need to get some practical issues across, too, such as the fact that in terms of the graduate earnings premium a person with a stem degree will earn a third more than someone with a non-stem degree. If we start getting those facts across to young people, I think we shall be able to shift the trend.

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Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the opportunity for schools, such as Ridgewood school in Scawsby, Doncaster, in my constituency, to apply for specialist engineering status will have a positive impact on the number of students who will study engineering at university in future?

Bill Rammell: My hon. Friend is correct. The specialist schools programme has helped us to take the agenda forward. In addition, our commitment by 2008 to ensure that all pupils achieving at least level 6 and over at key stage 3 will be entitled to study three separate science GCSEs, if necessary through collaboration, is an important step forward.

Child Sex Offenders

6. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What his policy is for the protection of children from other children with a record of sex offending. [80884]

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): We recently published revised guidelines, “Working Together to Safeguard Children 2006”, which set out three key principles for local agencies working with children who abuse others: first, there must be a robust, co-ordinated approach on the part of all agencies concerned in a case; secondly, the needs of children who abuse must be considered entirely separately from those of their victims; and, thirdly, there must an overall assessment of risk, which must include the risks to the victim, the abuser and others, particularly other children, whether in a family setting, in a school or in the wider community.

Mr. Turner: I thank the right hon. Lady for that answer and in particular for her emphasis on the last point. Will she tell me why it is believed that abusers between the ages of 16 and 18, or indeed over the age of 18, in further education colleges where there are youngsters as young as 14 should be treated any differently from employed abusers?

Beverley Hughes: First, those who are employed are in a position of authority and trust vis- -vis children and young people, which is not the case for those who may be students. I know that the hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned about the issue so I want to reassure him. Where an abuser is a child and the victim is a child there are many cases of a different nature: in some, the risk to other children will not be very great at all, because the abuse has arisen in a specific situation, but in others, there will be a more generalised risk to other children, which is why I stressed in the final part of my answer the need for agencies to look at each case individually and to make decisions on the basis of the risk posed by an individual young person to any other young people. Indeed, in some cases that will include the need to provide for education—whether further education or education before the age of 16—that is not in a mainstream education facility. That option is open to the agencies concerned.

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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): As one of a number of very useful initiatives, the Labour-led Scottish Executive have appointed a team of professionals with expertise in the area of adolescent sex offending to work urgently to produce a strategy that will produce swift, effective action to deal with those young people. Can the Minister say whether we on this side of the border are learning lessons from that group and working with them to ensure that our own strategy is improved and made as effective as possible?

Beverley Hughes: Yes. There is close collaboration. We also have on this side of the border our own joint programme, including all the relevant agencies and victims’ organisations, to develop national service guidelines based on research evidence of interventions that we think are effective and that have been properly evaluated. That is an important point in this difficult subject. We have also supported, through the Department of Health, the development of sexual assault referral centres for children—one initially in London and one at St. Mary's centre in Manchester. They are providing beacons of excellence and setting standards of good practice in this difficult area of work for professionals to draw on.

Playing Fields

7. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): When he expects to decide on the bid by Churchdown School, Gloucestershire, to sell part of its playing field for the purpose of developing sports facilities; and if he will make a statement. [80885]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): The application by Churchdown school for permission to sell part of its playing fields is under consideration. The School Playing Fields Advisory Panel will discuss the application at its July meeting, which I understand is on 20 July, and a decision will then be taken by the Department.

Mr. Robertson: I thank the Minister for that reply. The importance of the project to the area will be confirmed by his ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who represents the next-door constituency. A while ago, the school had a lottery application turned down that would have funded very important sports facilities in an area in which some 10,000 people live, and which lacks such facilities. That extremely important project is a community partnership, so will the Minister do all that he can to speed up the decision? I believe that it has been on the Minister's desk for some time now, and I ask him to treat it with the seriousness that I really do think the project deserves.

Jim Knight: It has not been on my desk for some time. As I said, it is currently with the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel but I have spoken today to officials who have been looking at the case, and, assuming that the panel’s decision is unanimous and uncontroversial, I will ensure that the school receives the decision by the end of this term.

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Tuition Fees

8. Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the impact on universities and students of removing the present upper cap on variable tuition fees after 2007. [80886]

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): The new variable fees regime starting this year will make a strong contribution to giving our universities the funding they need. It is providing, for the first time in a generation, a step change in funding for our universities while maintaining access. We have made it clear that we shall appoint an independent commission to look at the performance of the new system in 2009, and that no changes to the cap will be made before the commission has reported to Parliament.

Tom Levitt: I am very grateful for that response. It is worth reminding the House that it was this Government who legislated to ban top-up fees and the anarchy and cut-throat competition that they would have produced. It is important to have a system, but every time it changes there is a dip in the number of applications, so will my hon. Friend redouble his efforts to ensure that young people in particular are aware of the advantages that the new funding scheme brings both to them and to universities, and encourage young people to take up those opportunities?

Bill Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend. We should certainly do that. We should take some encouragement from the fact that the underlying trend in applications this year is upwards. We also need to continue with the joint communications campaign that we have established to get across the real benefits of the new student financial support system that is coming in this September. For example, students no longer have to pay before they go to university and only pay the money back when they are in work and earning more than £15,000 a year. The repayment terms are very affordable and, crucially, for students from poorer backgrounds, we are bringing back non-repayable grants. I am confident that if we get those messages across, we will get many more people going to university.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): The student income and expenditure survey this year found that one in four students considered not going to university because of concerns about debt. Does the Minister not think that lifting the cap would only make the situation worse?

Bill Rammell: I have made the position on the cap clear. I saw that piece of research and it simply does not bear out in any way, shape or form the reality of what is happening with applications for this academic year. If that were the true situation, we would see a significant downturn in applications. I am sometimes challenged about the stance of the Liberal Democrats on this issue. In Scotland, under the Scottish Executive, where the Liberal Democrats are in a partnership Government, they are supporting a postgraduate repayment system that, in principle, is no different from the system that we are bringing in this year.

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Citizenship Education

9. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What plans he has to review the teaching of citizenship in schools. [80887]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Phil Hope): Citizenship remains an important part of the national curriculum. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently reviewing the key stage 3 curriculum, which includes citizenship. We have recently announced a review, led by Keith Ajegbo, to explore the possibility of including British social and cultural history in the citizenship curriculum. Any changes will come into effect from September 2008.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that most helpful and comprehensive reply. Would he accept from me that citizenship should include the teaching of tolerance, freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, civil and community responsibilities and an understanding of democracy, and also, more than ever perhaps, an understanding of the history of the United Kingdom and the huge achievements of the British people over the centuries throughout the whole world?

Phil Hope: I am in danger of agreeing with the hon. Gentleman. The framework for key stage 4 of the citizenship curriculum specifically refers to students being taught about the legal and human rights and responsibilities underpinning society. It does not mention the European Union and the value that that has brought to British cultural and social history, but I am sure that he would agree that that should form part of that curriculum, as well.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I welcome what the Minister has said? I hope that, in any citizenship course, there will be reference to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) as being an essential part of British history. Has the Minister seen a leaflet produced by the Children’s Legal Centre that sets out the rights and responsibilities of young people from the age of 13 onwards? In discussing citizenship, is it not important to look also at the rights and responsibilities of young people? Will he ensure that that is included in any discussion of citizenship?

Phil Hope: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The citizenship curriculum covers issues relating to social and moral responsibility, political literacy and community involvement. Within all of that, the rights and responsibilities of every citizen in this country, what they are and how they can be exercised, and how young people have rights and responsibilities and can exercise them, must form a key part of what goes on in the classroom across the whole of school curriculum, as we generate an ethos of understanding and encouraging active citizenship by all our young people.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): I am sure that the Minister would agree that education in global citizenship and sustainable development is vital. What financial arrangements are in place to support the development of curriculum materials and teacher training in that?

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Phil Hope: Some £600,000 is being invested to provide continuous professional development over the next two years for some 1,200 teachers who teach citizenship in one shape or another in our schools. Within that continuous professional development, there will be opportunities for teachers to examine a variety of ways of engaging young people in that topic in the classroom and to do so in ways that involve young people in an active process to explore the role they play locally in their communities, nationally, in Europe, and, of course, across the planet in terms of global citizenship education. There are great opportunities to improve and deepen the quality of the citizenship education that young people experience.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): May I agree with the Minister that it is the delivery of a high-class, high-quality curriculum across the piece that will best develop the ideas of citizenship, both as a national of Britain and a citizen of the world? He might wish to pay a compliment to Oxley primary school, which, on every standard, has been found to be outstanding in every aspect of the curriculum. The children who arrive at that diverse, inner-city school have many problems, but they have none the less achieved magnificently. The contribution that the school makes to the idea of citizenship is far in excess of any narrow understanding of what may be put forward elsewhere.

Phil Hope: I am more than happy to celebrate along with my hon. Friend the achievements of Oxley primary school in his constituency. It is important to recognise that citizenship starts at the primary level in our school system and runs right through the secondary curriculum. In key stages 1 and 2, for primary school children, PSHE—personal, social and health education—and citizenship education are combined to give young people the kind of experience that my hon. Friend describes. Most importantly of all, as well as being taught in discrete lessons, the subject features right across the curriculum—in maths, English, history and geography classes—so that young people can see and experience the values and ethos of active citizenship and we can bed in the spirit and attitude of becoming positively engaged in local communities.

School Places

10. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What recent discussions his Department has had with the Department for Communities and Local Government on the provision of additional school places in Northamptonshire to accompany planned housing expansion. [80888]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): Local authorities are responsible for planning school place provision in their area, as I made clear last time we had oral questions. Decisions are taken locally and Ministers have no role in the process. The Milton Keynes and South Midlands learning and skills group meets regularly to enable joint and long-term education planning across the area, which includes Kettering. The group includes the Government office for the east midlands, local authorities and other key stakeholders, and its last meeting took place on 27 February 2006.

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