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12.48 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): That was an entertaining speech from the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), but the public will be looking for the substance and experience that we heard yesterday, rather than the personal attacks and shallow self-regard that we have heard today. Even with all the expenditure on his public school education, the hon. Gentleman cannot manage to be courteous about the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have to remind Opposition Members that Comic Relief was last week. We also remember when the hon. Member for Tatton
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wrote all those wonderful jokes for the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) when he was Leader of the Opposition. The trouble is that he also helped him with the policies—and we all saw what happened there.

We have seen Conservative Back Benchers get over-excited before. We saw it before the 2001 and the 2005 general elections. If we compare the Budget speech yesterday with today’s response, it seems to me that Conservative Members have learned nothing from their previous experiences.

We had a Budget yesterday that concentrated on the environment, on science and innovation and on the issues of the 21st century, particularly the policies that we will need—including higher education, which I shall come on to soon—to maintain the economic stability that we have enjoyed over the last 10 years into the new century. Crucial to all that was, of course, education.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman clear just one thing up? The Red Book shows that the overall tax burden is going to rise to 40.4 per cent. over much of the Budget period. It is not going to decline at all, so does the right hon. Gentleman still insist that this was a tax-cutting Budget?

Alan Johnson: Yes, the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know, I do, not least because 15 million gaining households will see a reduction in their direct taxes.

As I was saying, this was a Budget that put education first. What it did was lock in the current record levels of education spending and add additional amounts, compounded year on year, to provide a further £10.7 billion to invest in education by 2011.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The one figure that really struck me in what the Chancellor said yesterday was £6,600 as the average per pupil funding for 2010. I have to say that that figure would be totally unrecognisable to schools in Somerset where the current figure is about half that. I welcome the increased expenditure on education, but I wonder when it will be distributed fairly across the country so that poorly funded education authorities catch up.

Alan Johnson: We will indeed spend £6,600 per pupil by 2010 compared with £2,500 per pupil when we took office. The hon. Gentleman raises an important question about the distribution. We understand those issues, which is why we are currently out to consultation on a review of how spending is allocated. The spending per pupil figure that the Chancellor used yesterday was, of course, accurate. We are able to build on the achievements of the last 10 years while increasing our ambitions for the future.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how it can be a tax-cutting Budget when the Chancellor himself described it as fiscally neutral?

Alan Johnson: Because of the 15 million families that will see their taxes cut and because the overall effect of the Budget will, we believe, ensure that families right across the country have their tax obligations reduced.

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David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I know of the Secretary of State’s commitment to values that he has upheld for a long time, which I respect, but how can he put forward this Budget as a fair Budget when he knows that it increases tax on the lowest paid?

Alan Johnson: This Budget produces a £2.5 billion cut in personal taxes, which helps the poorest in this country. I noticed that the hon. Member for Tatton did not mention the 200,000 children lifted out of poverty or the extension of in-work credits that will help single parents back to work or the £2 billion in tax credits, which are essential to ensuring that people can move from welfare to work without suffering a reduction in their income.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): On the issue of helping disadvantaged young people, I was pleased to hand out awards to young people in Stockport last Friday. The youth opportunities fund provided £500,000 over two years and this initiative has been widely welcomed by young people who can have the projects that they want. If it can be demonstrated, on evaluation, that it has helped to get young people off the streets and, more importantly, helped disadvantaged young people, will the Secretary of State look into finding ways of continuing it? I congratulate the Government on this excellent initiative.

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right to talk about the success of “Youth Matters”, not least because we had a wide consultation with young people themselves about how best to spend this money. I will certainly learn any lessons from it and try to take it forward into further policy.

Several hon. Members rose—

Alan Johnson: I shall give way one more time, but then I want to make some progress.

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): The Secretary of State has just confirmed the Government’s intention to increase education funding per pupil to £6,600. Can he elaborate further on how he expects to achieve that in Shropshire, where spending last year was £3,351? Does he mean that Shropshire is going to get double its present funding?

Alan Johnson: Perhaps we will have a teach-in afterwards. I am talking about the average amount of spending per pupil. The hon. Gentleman will find that Shropshire has had a huge increase in spending per pupil since we came into government. Across the country, that averages out at £5,500 per pupil now and by 2010, with an extra £10.7 billion invested in education, it will average £6,600 per pupil.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Alan Johnson: No. I am going to make some progress.

Since we came into office—this is pertinent to previous questions—education spending has more than doubled from £30 billion in 1997 to £66 billion in the coming year. This Budget takes it to £74 billion by
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2010. Capital investment has increased eightfold from £1 billion in 1997 to £8 billion today, rising to more than £10 billion in 2011. We now spend on sports facilities alone what the previous Government spent on the whole capital infrastructure of schools.

The extra investment is producing a profound and visible transformation. Every single secondary school in the country is being rebuilt or refurbished. More schools have been built in the last five years than in the previous 25. Schools and colleges are finally getting the books and IT equipment that they require and where teacher numbers fell substantially during 18 years of Tory Government, the number of full-time equivalent teachers is, after 10 years of this Labour Government, up by 36,000 and there are 150,000 more support staff.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Has the Secretary of State had a report from the Minister for Schools about his recent visit to Leicester, where the Building Schools for the Future programme will result in the rebuilding of three of the secondary schools in my constituency—the largest investment ever, with £230 million going into Leicester schools? Has my right hon. Friend received a report of that highly successful visit?

Alan Johnson: I have. Indeed, I am so enthused and excited by that report that I am going to come to Leicester myself, not least to visit New college, which has witnessed an education transformation over the last year. Unprecedented investment matched with essential reforms is bringing about the best results ever.

Meg Hillier: I hope that my right hon. Friend, accompanied by our right hon. Friend the Chancellor, enjoyed his visit to Mossbourne city academy in Hackney. Does the Secretary of State agree that, notwithstanding the slurs of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the Chancellor is fully supportive of the massive investment whereby six city academies are being built in Hackney and huge amounts are going into the infrastructure of our primary and secondary schools? That investment has increased results substantially, so that more than half of pupils now gain five A to C grade GCSEs.

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right. I believe she is talking about a tremendous visit to a primary school in her constituency. We found that there was special expertise in language teaching for primary school pupils, resulting in the teaching of Mandarin in that school. Incidentally, according to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), Mossbourne is the best school that he has ever seen, so I view that as a compliment to Labour party policies.

We have improved results through a combination of additional investment and reforms. Compared with 1997, about 95,000 more 11-year-olds every year now reach the standard expected in English and maths. About 85,000 more pupils get five good GCSEs. When English and maths are included, 62,000 more pupils are making the grade. In 1997, there were 616 schools in which just a quarter of pupils obtained five or more good GCSEs; now, that figure is just 47, and we are determined to drive it down to zero.

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City academies have been a powerful force for good in the most deprived areas, bringing about improvements at three times the average, with twice the number of pupils on free school meals. By removing VAT constraints, the Budget provides further support as we move towards our target of 400 academies. Pupils across the nation are doing better, but with Every Child Matters in place, and with technology that is able to provide detailed information on each child’s progression, we can move to the next stage and attack the pernicious link between a child’s background and their educational attainment.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Is the right hon. Gentleman embarrassed that, as a result of his Government’s policies, thousands of adult education courses have been cut in order to put funding directly into provision for 16 to 19-year-olds? That has happened as a direct result of the fact that, under this Labour Government, so many young people of that age leave school functionally illiterate and therefore need extra help with basic skills.

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is confusing two different things. First, Skills for Life is dealing with the failures of the previous Tory Government’s education policy, and 1.25 million adults who were functionally illiterate and innumerate have now been given those necessary skills. Secondly, we are not cutting funding for adult education at all: we are increasing it. Sooner or later, the Conservatives are going to have to deal with policy. The issue in the 21st century is that we need to focus our resources on longer courses that will give people accredited level 2 and 3 qualifications to equip them for the world of work. That is our absolutely remorseless focus, and Lord Leitch’s report agreed that it is the right priority.

I was talking about breaking the link between background and educational attainment. Last year, we published a Green Paper with proposals to improve outcomes for children in care. The consultation has now ended, and we will come forward in due course with a series of measures radically to address the historic systemic failure that lets down the most vulnerable children in our society.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is right to say that this Government are the first to tackle the national scandal of the education of children in public care. When he looks at that issue, will he also look at the Select Committee’s recommendation that city academies should, like other schools, be made to give priority in admissions to looked-after children?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend has a great deal of experience in this field, and I defer to no one in my respect for her involvement in education. I have to say to her, however, that city academies are already required to give priority to children in care. Indeed, last week at Mossbourne academy—50 per cent. of whose children are on free school meals, compared with the London average of 20 per cent.—I was told that that myth was being spread about academies; it is absolutely untrue.

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I do not disagree with the idea that there should be proper
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accreditation for courses, but one of the consequences of the focus on accredited courses in further education is that a particular group has fallen through the net, namely, adolescents and young adults with learning disabilities who attend FE colleges not to get a certificate but to attend valuable life skills courses. They have been priced out of the market, and I want to know what the Secretary of State is going to do about it. They are probably among the most vulnerable people.

Alan Johnson: I accept what the hon. Lady is saying. I have heard this from several quarters. I will go back and look at the matter again, and I will deal with any individual problems that she wishes to raise with me. Time and again, we have said that the priority for the Learning and Skills Council must be people with disabilities and special educational needs. Reconfiguring adult education to focus on longer courses that result in qualifications must not interfere with the important work being done with children with special education needs. I will look into that issue.

We reject the view that some children are destined to fail. All too often, bright and talented children simply do not get the support or help that they require. Early years education is vital to a child’s progression, and we have invested more than £20 billion in that area. There are now almost 1.3 million child care places—double the number for 1997—and more than 1,100 Sure Start children’s centres are providing support to almost 1 million families. With yesterday’s settlement, we can guarantee 3,500 Sure Start children’s centres—one in virtually every community across the country. We have given every three and four-year-old an entitlement to 12.5 hours free early learning, and 96 per cent. of children have taken that up. We will extend that to 15 hours by 2010.

We do not believe that the benefits of a high-quality education should be restricted to a small elite. Our aim is for the state sector to match the levels of success in the independent sector, even without the harsh levels of selection in public schools. As the Chancellor confirmed yesterday, we are committed to closing the gap on capital funding with public schools by 2010, with a long-term aim to match spending per pupil.

This is not just about finances, however. Our second aim is to ensure that state schools can provide children with the individual attention that they need. We are putting £1 billion into personalised learning this year alone, with much more to come. This will allow us to move forward on the Gilbert review, to ensure extra lessons and increased support for those who are struggling as well as for those with exceptional potential.

Thirdly, we aim to emulate the extra-curricular activities available in private schools, and to provide the kind of sport, music, dance and drama activities that help children to develop confidence and to acquire valuable social skills. We are substantially increasing spending on sport and music. Extended schools offer children the chance to take part in these and other high-quality activities. There are 4,000 extended schools already offering wraparound services from 8 am through to 6 pm. By 2010, all schools will offer extended services.

Mr. Sheerman: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the improvements that have taken place in extended
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schools? I urge him to tell the House how far those schools will be able, with the new income from the Budget, to expand the programmes that have already proved so successful. Will he also go back to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), who intervened on him just now? You spread this lie, this absolute lie— [ Interruption. ] It is a lie. I am not saying that any hon. Member is a liar, but I am saying that when people on the Back Benches say that there is functional illiteracy on the levels that the hon. Gentleman suggested, it does damage to the education system and it undermines teachers and students.

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right about extended schools achieving better results. Ofsted has recently produced a report that demonstrates that. I have mentioned that every school will be an extended school by 2010. More importantly, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced yesterday that we will provide free services in those extended schools for children from the poorest families. That combination will be very important.

On my hon. Friend’s other point, there is often a misunderstanding about the levels of illiteracy and innumeracy in our society. There was a pretty poor education system in place, roughly between 1979 and 1997, and dealing with the effects of that is an important part of our proposals stemming from the Budget.

Meg Hillier: I fear that my right hon. Friend underplays the benefits of extended schools. In Hackney, one of our extended schools, the Hackney Free and Parochial school, is seeking to let a cleaning contract between 10 pm and 6 am, as those are the only hours when the school is not in use, save for one week’s closure in the summer. Hackney schools are genuinely “schools plus”, and this hugely benefits Hackney parents. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it also benefits the pupils, who need qualifications but also desperately need that extended education?

Alan Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the importance of this provision, and for describing it much better than I could have done. It is one of the most exciting developments in state schools. In relation to the theme of this part of my speech, the provision that is now available in state schools matches what has always been available in independent schools.

The fourth point is that private schools are free to build links with other organisations and to develop their own ethos. The new trust status makes it easier for state schools to nurture those relationships. I am delighted that we have exceeded our target for schools in trust pathfinders, and I am confident that we will hit 300 by the end of the year. All those measures combined will enable us to make dramatic progress in closing the attainment gap between those from deprived backgrounds and those from more affluent homes.

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