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Mr. Dhanda: That is a very good local press release for the hon. Gentleman—I congratulate him on that. I would be delighted to meet him and his constituents, perhaps over a bacon sandwich. The interesting underlying point here is that the School Food Trust is doing important work in relation to balanced food in
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our schools. We are putting about £477 million into this project between now and 2011 and, for the first time since the 1960s, we are seeing a subsidy on school food, which is very important.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I do not know where the Minister was at quarter to 7 this morning, but if he was watching television he would have seen an outside broadcast featuring the catering staff of the City of Leicester college. The training of such staff is crucial to the take-up of healthy school meals. Catering staff in my area—at least 40 per cent. of whom are in the private sector—are worried by the lack of a common approach by employers towards paid leave for attending the relevant vocational and training courses. Will the Minister assure me and those members of staff that they will not lose pay when they attend such courses? That is important to the individuals concerned, and to the take-up of healthy school meals.

Mr. Dhanda: I assure my hon. Friend that I was watching the “Breakfast” news programme this morning, and I saw some of the excellent work that is being done. The staff at the City of Leicester college was one of the areas that was highlighted, so well done to them. My hon. Friend will be aware that we are setting aside £2 million for regional training centres to help catering staff to get skilled up to the levels that we require. We are also introducing new national vocational qualifications at level 1 and level 2 to assist this process. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about staff being able to take time off to attend classes. I am certainly of the view that most good employers would agree that their staff should be able to get skilled up in the work place in order to make their contribution to healthier school food.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): There are 4.6 million children who decide not to take school meals—healthy or otherwise. Perhaps they prefer to eat bacon sandwiches, in support of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon). Does the Minister accept that, while schools have a right and a duty to inform parents of the healthy options for packed lunches, principals and teachers do not have a duty to act as food police, to remove items from lunch boxes or to deny youngsters the opportunity to eat their packed lunches on school premises just because the principal deems them to be unhealthy?

Mr. Dhanda: It is not part of our plan to ban packed lunches, but head teachers and teachers in many schools take a responsible role in helping to educate children about quality food in their packed lunches. An important part of what we are trying to do is to get the message across to children, not least through the entitlement to learn to cook a nutritional meal by the age of 16. It is important, however, in handing down that education to the children, that the message also gets back to the parents. Parents have an important role to play, not least in raising the take-up of healthy school meals.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Minister just mentioned children’s entitlement to learn to cook a nutritional meal by the age of 16. In
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that context, will he have another look at food technology in the curriculum? Rather than teaching our children how to design a Mars bar, perhaps we could teach them how to cook a shepherd’s pie.

Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are working on this with the School Food Trust. I understand that about 70 per cent. of schools offer food technology lessons. We will also be working with extended schools to ensure that there is an entitlement for all children to be able to learn to cook a quality meal—not just with Mars bars, but with healthy, nutritional food—by the age of 16.

Teachers’ Pay

5. Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): If he will take steps to bring pay for staff in colleges into line with that paid to staff in schools who teach the same subject at the same level. [102287]

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): The Government are not the employer of further education staff. Further education colleges were established as independent organisations by the Conservative Government in 1992. We believe that it is important that colleges retain the discretion to make their own decisions about pay for their staff, within their overall budget. However, the 48 per cent. real-terms increase in funding that this Government have delivered to the further education sector has helped to improve pay levels in FE.

Mr. Ellwood: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, although he must now go back a long way—1992—for justification in relation to the problems for which the Government are responsible. A report from the Learning and Skills Council makes it clear that colleges are receiving 13 per cent. less per student than schools for providing the same type of course. That equates to about £400 per pupil or £600,000 per college. If we are to allow colleges, such as the Bournemouth and Poole college in my constituency, to compete more fairly with schools, does he agree that we should pump money not only into lower and intermediate skills but into further education?

Bill Rammell: I was not going back a long way; I was comparing like with like. Since 1997, the Government have increased funding to further education colleges by 48 per cent. in real terms, which compares favourably with a 14 per cent. real terms cut in the last five years of the previous Conservative Government. The funding gap, however, is an issue. Last year, we made a commitment that that 13 per cent. gap should be reduced. In one year, we reduced it by 5 per cent. and we have plans to reduce it by a further 3 per cent. by 2008. In the longer term, we will establish a common funding arrangement system for all post-16 provision to ensure comparable funding for comparable activity, regardless of institution. The Government have credibility on the issue, and I fail to understand how the Conservative party, which is committed to £21 billion of public expenditure cuts, can have that.

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Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to establishing a common funding system in the longer term. Given the development of the 14-to-19 curriculum following the Tomlinson report’s recommendations, should not the common funding system apply from 14, not just 16? Does he not agree that the best way to deliver the 14-to-19 curriculum is through a managed, co-ordinated tertiary system, and not through the proliferation of more new small sixth forms?

Bill Rammell: In direct response to my hon. Friend’s last point, different options are needed for young people, and we should not shut off such choices. On reducing the funding gap, before the Government’s commitment last year, the critique that that was just warm words had some validity. But the commitment last year to reduce the funding gap by 5 per cent. in one year, by a further 3 per cent. by 2008, and then to establish a common funding system, is real evidence that we are making progress.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): The gap in staff pay and per pupil funding has already been mentioned as but one of numerous funding discrepancies between colleges and schools. Colleges, for example, pay VAT on supplies, whereas schools can reclaim it from the Government. Does the Minister consider that fair?

Bill Rammell: That is a long-standing issue, and the independent status under incorporation of further education colleges confers real advantages, which is right and proper. FE colleges have prospered under that system. The increased funding available has driven up success rates, but funding anomalies remain between the two systems. Our commitments of last year are starting to make progress on that, as FE college principals up and down the country to whom I talk recognise.


6. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): If his Department will place greater emphasis on the teaching of geography in schools. [102288]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): We are investing £2 million over the next two years to promote geography in schools. Our action plan for geography, which includes new resources and training for schools and chartered status for excellent geography teachers, was launched earlier this year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is also launching the education outside the classroom manifesto next week, which will be of particular importance to geography.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am, of course, grateful to the Minister for that helpful reply. But is it acceptable, at a time when citizenship is at the heart of the Government’s agenda, that one in five pupils was unable to locate the United Kingdom on a world atlas, while one in 10 was unable to mention a single continent, according to a survey of 1,000 six to 14-year-olds for the new magazine National Geographic Kids? In addition, thousands of children from London were unaware that they lived in the United Kingdom’s
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capital city. I learned about the oceans, seas, mountains, capitals of countries and major rivers of the world—

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): And Macclesfield.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Yes, and Macclesfield. Should we not get back to some of the fundamentals of geography education in our schools?

Jim Knight: I am always slightly wary of surveys connected with the launch of magazines encouraging parents to ensure that children learn more geography, but, speaking as a geography graduate, I am very keen for them to learn more geography.

The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that we are piloting a new geography GCSE in some areas, so that pupils can learn not just about the joys of Macclesfield—about how the settlement developed in response to the copper mines and silk mills, and about the magnificent citizens of the town—but about some of the key issues that we face in the House, such as uneven development in different regions and countries, globalisation, sustainability, futures and interdependence. In fact, I think that the new geography GCSE would be an excellent qualification for us all to obtain.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Speaking as a former geography teacher, may I suggest that we would have more confidence in the Government’s policies on geography if a Department for Transport consultation on the location of London’s airports had not sited the Isle of Wight just off the south coast of Portland Bill?

Jim Knight: As the Member representing Portland, I can say that while I can see the Isle of Wight from my constituency when I am in Swanage, it is a very clear day when I can see it from Portland. Perhaps I will refer my friends at the Department for Transport to the new GCSE and see whether they are interested in it as well.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) was right to mention the survey by National Geographic Kids, which highlights some serious issues in our schools. The Minister will be aware that the number of pupils taking GCSEs in geography has dropped by a staggering 40,000. Does he share our concern about the drift away from the study of core academic subjects? The number of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs graded A* to C in English, maths, science and modern languages has fallen from 30 per cent. five years ago to just 25 per cent. last year.

Jim Knight: Geography remains the fourth most popular GCSE, behind English literature, French and history, which are all serious, traditional academic subjects, so I do not entirely recognise the picture that the hon. Gentleman paints. The number is certainly falling, but it is falling in the context of more choice. I think that the Conservative party believes in choice in education, as we do.

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We can all play around with statistics, but the hon. Gentleman is well aware that by any measure—including that employed by the chief inspector of schools, who yesterday said unambiguously that schools were continuing to improve alongside the public’s expectations—and according to any analysis of results at 16, 18, 11 or any other stage of education, things are improving radically and rapidly in our schools.

Excluded Pupils

8. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What resources are available to schools which offer education to pupils who have been excluded from other schools; and if he will make a statement. [102290]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): When previously excluded pupils are admitted to new schools, the funds relating to them will be transferred to the receiving schools. Additional support may also be available to schools from local authorities’ behaviour support services, in the form of resources and support staff.

Mr. Robertson: I think the Minister will agree that the exclusion of a pupil should represent the beginning of another process, not the end of that person’s education. What advice would he give to three schools in my area, Cleeve, Tewkesbury and Winchcombe, which are getting together to try to deal with all excluded pupils so that they do not miss out on education and do not cause further trouble in society? What support, particularly financial support, is available for arrangements of that kind?

Jim Knight: I know that such initiatives have been very successful, notably in Coventry and Lincolnshire. Local authorities have delegated funds for facilities such as pupil referral units to groups of schools so that they have an interest in looking after excluded pupils and returning them to mainstream education, which is where the vast majority belong. I wish them well, but it is for the schools to negotiate with local authorities themselves. The innovation unit in the Department has given some support to trailblazers, but it is now well established that groups of schools can offer much better outcomes than local authorities directly running referral units. That has been shown in many areas all over the country.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Can we ensure that we have full and proper protection for our teachers against violent pupils? If a child has been excluded from a school because they have been violent towards a member of the teaching staff, they should not be foisted back on to the school or on to another school against the wishes of the teachers there.

Jim Knight: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have made it clear that heads can permanently exclude pupils who are very disruptive or violent. Guidance for exclusion appeals panels makes it clear that a permanent exclusion should not normally be overturned in a range of circumstances, including violence or the threat of violence.

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Leicester University Medical School (Funding)

9. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): What funding the Higher Education Funding Council has allocated for training doctors at the Leicester University of Leicester medical school for 2006-07. [102291]

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): The Higher Education Funding Council for England allocated £61 million to the University of Leicester for 2006-07, which is an increase of 4 per cent. over the previous year. The allocation of that funding within the university is a matter for the institution.

Mr. Robathan: I am delighted by the increase from the HEFC, but unfortunately—as the Minister will know—funding is a joint responsibility between the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills. The NHS is cutting the training and education budget by 10 per cent., which professors at the University of Leicester medical school have described as ridiculously short-sighted and seriously damaging. Will the Minister please get in touch with his colleagues at the Department of Health and, if I may use the expression, get a grip on the Secretary of State for Health and ensure continuous and sustained support for university medical education in Leicester and elsewhere?

Bill Rammell: I understand the concerns about the Department of Health reductions. It is working with the Council of Deans to understand the exact impact of those reductions on training and education throughout the country. We are working closely with our ministerial colleagues on the issue and I certainly understand the issue that has been put to me directly about the right and ability of universities to plan for the longer term. I hope that we can deliver that. Despite the challenges, we have had a 71 per cent. increase in medical undergraduate numbers since 1997, which contrasts very favourably with the 50 per cent. cut in the nurse training programme that took place in the early 1990s.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I share some of the concerns that have been expressed by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). The medical school in Leicester is one of the finest in the country. Has my hon. Friend the Minister received an explanation from the Department of Health about why the new, state of the art medical school will be moved from its proposed site at the Leicester general hospital in my constituency to the Granby Hall site, because of a reduction of £200 million in the pathway project? Will he give us an assurance that the funding from his Department will not alter, despite the fact that the Department of Health is cutting money in particular area?

Bill Rammell: I know that my right hon. Friend takes a close interest in these issues, but I am not aware of the specific details of the point he makes. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the issue. Leicester university is relatively badly affected as a newer medical school, as it receives a greater proportion of its funding for staff from the NHS rather than from the
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HEFC. I understand the concern and I am talking to colleagues in the Department of Health so that we can ensure greater predictability of funding in the longer term for universities.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): May I inform the Minister that the suddenness and savagery of the cuts are affecting not only the University of Leicester university medical school but many other universities? The cuts are breaking contracts that they have with the NHS and disappointing thousands of nursing students who have invested time and money only to find that there are no jobs for them. Above all, the cuts are making it inevitable that there will be a critical shortage of nurses in a few years’ time. Does the Minister agree that the mismanagement of the funding is bad for nurses, doctors, universities and, above all, patients?

Bill Rammell: There are issues involved, but we need to learn from the experience of what happened in the early 1990s when the cuts in the nurse training programme make what is happening now pale in comparison. We learned from that experience and that is why I am in discussion with my colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that we have stability and predictability for future funding patterns. I am determined that we will achieve that.

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