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5. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): How many schools for those aged three to 19 years old he expects there to be by 2012. [114152]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): Local authorities are required to inform my Department of their plans for new schools only when they publish statutory notices, so we cannot say how many schools for those aged three to 19 there will be in 2012. There is currently one maintained school for those aged three to 18, one for those aged four to 18, one for those aged three to 16, and one for those aged four to 16. There are two academies for those aged five to 19.

John Mann: I hope that the Minister will find time to visit Selby Park school in my constituency—it is such a school, in a mining village, and it has been an outstanding success—both to look at its success and think about how that could apply elsewhere in the country, and also to discuss with other schools in mining villages in my constituency whether that model would suit them in improving attainment in future.

Jim Knight: I am certainly aware of the successful amalgamation of three schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency to form the new Selby Park school. That is a tribute to the work of teachers, pupils, governors and the Labour-controlled county council. I am also aware that the head teacher, Dave Harris, leads the consortium for all-age schools. I will try to find time to pay a visit to his constituency and have the discussions that my hon. Friend talked about.

Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): We already know that, in the run up to 2012, the Government are going to spend billions of pounds on rebuilding schools or building new schools, which is welcome. However, we also know that by the time we get to 2012 the number of pupils being educated in those schools will have fallen. Do the Government recognise that that challenge of demographic change requires not only that they respond with new buildings, but that they transform the curriculum being delivered within those new buildings so that we drive up attainment and staying on rates at 16?

Jim Knight: As we roll out the building schools for the future programme—a £45 billion investment in secondary school buildings and transforming secondary education—we will certainly look to local authorities to make sure that they take proper account of falling rolls and propose imaginative schemes to address that. That will work alongside the most ambitious reform of qualifications, with the introduction of specialised diplomas, for many years.
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We want to make sure that local authorities, in their vision for building schools for the future, are also accounting for the needs in relation to the 14 to 19 reforms.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): There are two systems in the Stafford constituency: some parts have primary and secondary schools, while others have first, middle and secondary schools. Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever the structure, if we give teachers and schools the tools to do the job, they rise magnificently to the challenge? Is that not borne out by the Sir Graham Balfour high school in Stafford, which is strongly improving, as is shown by the latest performance figures? I know from experience that it has become very popular since the two-site school was replaced by a modern private finance initiative building.

Jim Knight: I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments and join him in congratulating Sir Graham Balfour school on its results, which show the benefits of the imaginative work of its head teacher and the commitment of its governors and pupils. They are part of the excellent results that are being announced today, which show that in the past 10 years the proportion of children getting five GCSEs at A* to C has increased from 45 per cent. to 58 per cent. If maths is included, there has been a rise of 9 per cent. over that period. We should all be celebrating that success, and schools and pupils throughout the country should be proud of their results.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In the past 10 years, the number of pupil referral units has increased from 309 to 449. Does the Minister think that that trend will continue?

Jim Knight: Pupil referral units perform an important function. I am examining the situation carefully because the performance of PRUs is variable and there is evidence that when local authorities delegate the management of PRUs to partnerships of schools the units become more successful. I am not that interested in the overall number of PRUs; I am more interested in their success.


6. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): How many specialist teachers of autistic children are working in English schools. [114154]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): The framework for teacher training ensures that all qualifying and newly qualified teachers, including those supporting children with autism, can plan effectively to meet special educational needs. Decisions about further training for individual teachers are for schools to take. However, to help to reinforce skills, we have announced that we will be developing, with advice from our autism working group, a teachers’ pack on effective provision for children with autistic spectrum disorders. That will complement and build on our good practice guidance that was issued in 2002, which included a checklist for an autism-friendly school.

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Mr. Blizzard: I welcome that answer. I have been working with a group of about 50 parents of autistic children in my constituency. Although those children have varying needs and this is coming from a very low base, Suffolk local education authority has made good progress this year on developing specialist services. Parents tell me that there is a need for more training so that more expertise can be developed among classroom teachers in mainstream schools. I hope that the new initiative will bring results, but will the Minister carry out a national audit of provision for autistic children because I think that he would find that the picture is very patchy?

Mr. Dhanda: I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has been doing in Waveney, where he regularly meets about 50 parents of children with autism. As part of the initial teacher training process, teachers are equipped to address special educational needs and receive training on that, but he is right that we need to go further. We will be working with the Teacher Training Agency on a £1.1 million programme that will, among other things, help to ensure that more teachers spend more concentrated time in placements in special schools during the training process and that online facilities are used to spread best practice.

My hon. Friend says that work needs to be done with local authorities. I assure him that we are working closely with groups, including the National Autistic Society and local authorities, in our autism working group—there is a meeting with officials this morning—to find ways of providing better resourcing packages to improve the situation and to assist teachers and pupils.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Will the Minister recognise the superb work undertaken by specialist teachers at the Royal School for the Deaf and Communication Disorders in Cheadle Hulme in Cheshire, which takes children from throughout the United Kingdom—some for 365 days a year—and teaches and looks after children with the most severe autism and other disabilities? Do the Government recognise that such centres of excellence must continue? Does the Minister realise that when more able children reach the age of 18, they have extreme difficulties bridging the gap between being in education, with all the support that they get, and beginning to live a semi-independent life in the community?

Mr. Dhanda: The hon. Lady makes an important point about the role of staff in centres such as the one that she mentions. We intend to continue to work with local authorities and to provide further funding for special educational needs in the coming years. She will be aware that in the past five years the amount of money that we have given has increased from some £2.8 billion five years ago to £4.5 billion this year. That is roughly a 60 per cent. increase in funding for that area.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that although there are many wonderful teachers working in special educational needs across the country, there are not enough of them? Will the whole Front Bench team take another look at the Select Committee on Education
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and Skills report on special educational needs, and its report on teaching children to read, and will it then track back to the fact that there is something deeply wrong with the training of our teachers, as so many of them have no experience of teaching children with special educational needs or of teaching children to read? I would like to hear a much greater note of urgency in his tone when he responds.

Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend and I have had in-depth discussions on the issue, and we had a three-hour discussion with the Select Committee just before Christmas. I take on board what he says about the need for greater training and support for the teaching profession, but I reiterate that such issues are a compulsory part of initial teacher training. We need to go further, and we are working with the TTA on that. The appropriate way forward is to work with groups such as the autism working group; that is what we are doing, and I promise him that we will continue to do that.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that children with autistic spectrum disorders often have complex needs that go well beyond those that can reasonably be met in the classroom, and given that those needs tend to persist throughout their lives, may I ask the Minister, pursuant to the pertinent inquiry of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton), what particular steps his Department is taking to improve services to support the emotional and social needs of such children, particularly post-16, so that they have the equipment the better to lead independent lives?

Mr. Dhanda: I assure the hon. Gentleman that my noble Friend Lord Adonis has been working on that matter very closely. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman more information in writing, as I know from his contribution to the Select Committee discussion that we had just before Christmas that he is very concerned about the issue. He is right that the issue is not just about what happens within the school environment, and that those needs do not end at the age of 16. We have to work carefully and closely with local authorities to make sure that there are pathways to support such people for the rest of their lives, whatever they end up doing. We should support them both inside and outside of education, and provide them with the right level of support.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Ensuring an overall framework for special educational needs support is obviously important if we are to tackle the specific area of special needs under discussion. Is my hon. Friend aware that, in Birmingham, a review of SEN provision has caused a great deal of concern among teachers and parents? In fairness to the Tory and Lib Dem-controlled council, it says that it has been misunderstood, that the issue is not about what it is said to be about, and that it will consult properly, but there is still a great deal of concern. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commented on the matter, but will he and his colleagues on the Front Bench make sure that Birmingham lives up to what it says, and consults and involves the people in that key area who have the most at stake?

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Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend makes a fair point about what is happening in Birmingham. I am pleased to note that our debate is not overly cooked or overheated, as in the past there was talk of moratoriums, but that would not assist local authorities. It is worth putting on the record the fact that from 1986 to 1997, 234 special schools closed. The rate decreased in 1997 to 2005, when there were 138 closures, but a great deal of restructuring by local government resulted in smaller facilities closing or merging, often with mainstream facilities.

My hon. Friend made his point about Birmingham very clearly, and concerns have been raised about Wandsworth, too. His contribution echoes those concerns, enabling them to be heard loud and clear in Birmingham.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): But does the Minister recognise that many parents with a child at the severe end of the autism spectrum genuinely believe that they would be better off in a special school? Why are the Government still instructing local authorities that

Has not the time come to withdraw that guidance, putting the views of parents, not politicians, first and, indeed, to introduce a moratorium on the closure of special schools?

Mr. Dhanda: I do not think that that is the case. We have made it clear that parents should be able to say what they want as part of the statementing process. If they want their child to go to a special school, they have the right to say so and send them to such a school. Only 0.25 per cent. of families with children with special educational needs make an appeal to the independent SENDIST—special educational needs and disabilities tribunal—because they are unhappy with the choice of school or have not been given what they want. Our position is clear—we support the parents’ choice, whether it is a mainstream or special school or, as is increasingly the case, a special school allied to a mainstream school. With the support of the building schools for the future programme and the £6.5 billion a year building programme, we have been able to improve some of those facilities and achieve greater co-location.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Parents in my constituency have drawn attention to the problem of persuading primary schools to recognise that their children have autism so that help can be provided before those children start to experience feelings of exclusion and behavioural problems. Can the Minister assure me that the matter will receive a high priority, perhaps in the Ofsted inspection, so that primary schools can make sure that all teachers understand and detect the early stages of autism, as that is as important as the provision of specialist autism teachers?

Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend is right, and that is one reason that we support the National Autistic Society’s make schools make sense campaign—I believe that she attended the launch. We are working with the society to
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design a pack that will enable teachers to recognise autism and to deal with it, specifically by supporting the teachers that she mentioned in primary schools.

Schools (Northumberland)

7. Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): What estimate he has made of the number of schools in Northumberland likely to be (a) built and (b) refurbished through the capital spending announced in the Chancellor’s public spending statement. [114155]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): I have made no estimate of the number of schools in Northumberland likely to be built or refurbished during the spending review period announced in the Chancellor’s public spending statement. This is because, first, detailed allocations to public authorities have not yet been announced for this period and, secondly, because decision making is carried out at local authority level.

Mr. Beith: The Minister will know from his recent visit to Northumberland of the desperate need for a new high school in Alnwick, the needs of many other schools in the county, the massive reorganisation that the county is trying to undertake and the fact that all its bids under the building schools for the future programme have failed. The Minister and his officials have promised to undertake some work to understand why that has happened, but by what date will we know that some of that money is going to Northumberland so that some of those schools can be rebuilt?

Jim Knight: I enjoyed my visit to Northumberland and our constructive discussions about the problems faced by the authority. The right hon. Gentleman will know that it has accepted a repayable advance in 2007-08 of £2.1 million, and I am considering a request for an additional advance of £3.9 million. He should bear in mind the fact that, 10 years ago under the previous Government, the entire capital allocation was only £3.1 million. We have therefore advanced significant sums but, unfortunately for Northumberland, money under the BSF programme is allocated on the basis of deprivation and need. As we discussed, that presents problems for his authority.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): One of the problems that Northumberland faces is that on the basis of funding per pupil, it is in the bottom four of all local education authorities in England. As the Minister saw on his visit, the county has to deal with providing education in one of the most sparsely populated counties in England, coupled with dealing with social deprivation in the former coalfield areas of the south-east of the county. When the Minister looks at the funding formulae, will he take into consideration sparsity and the other factors that deprive Northumberland of a great deal of money?

Jim Knight: Certainly we take account of sparsity when we consider the funding formula. I would advise the hon. Gentleman to look at the funding figures, including grants. If he does so, he will see that Northumberland is right next to Dorset, the county
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that I represent, and is somewhere round the 30th worst funded authority, not the fourth worst funded authority out of the 149.

Children's Centres

8. Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): What progress has been made towards the target for a children's centre in every community by 2010. [114156]

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): We exceeded our interim milestone of 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres by September last year, and there are now 1,051 centres reaching over 850,000 children and their families. The strong engagement of local authorities and other local partners means that we are making good progress towards having 3,500 children’s centres—one for every community—by 2010. The centres are at the heart of our “Every Child Matters” programme. They are a key vehicle for improving the outcomes for young children, reducing inequalities between them and helping to bring an end to child poverty.

Kitty Ussher: I am grateful to the Minister for that response, and I am pleased with the progress that has been made. I am also grateful for the excellent Sure Start and children’s centre provision in my constituency, Burnley. Due to our high levels of deprivation, we had a number of centres right from the start. I can personally vouch for the excellence of the service provided, as our family has had occasion to use it recently. Given the progress that has been made in rolling out children’s centres, which my right hon. Friend has just announced, what scope is there to work further with primary care trusts to use them to provide additional essential health services in every community throughout the country?

Beverley Hughes: I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and for her interest both in the national policy and locally. She is right to highlight that aspect, because as we move from the experimental Sure Start local programmes in very disadvantaged areas to seeing the centres as mainstream provision in every community, it is vital that local health and employment services are provided through the children’s centres, integrated with early education and children’s social care services. I would like to see more health-led children’s centres, not just an integration of health, but run by PCTs, as is the case in one of the children’s centres in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The evaluations tell us that when the centres are health-led, some of the best practice and best outcomes are achieved, precisely because of the high quality of data that many PCTs have. That is being encouraged at local level both by me and by Health Ministers.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Although I welcome the roll-out of more children’s centres, is not the Minister concerned that the evidence so far suggests that the most disadvantaged families and those that are most difficult to reach are not presenting at children’s centres, and therefore cannot be helped in the way that she has just set out? What policies will she pursue to reach the most difficult families, which can benefit most from state provision?

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