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Bill Rammell: We must do everything that we can to encourage young people from all backgrounds, and in particular state schools, to apply to university. The evidence shows that there has been a significant improvement in attainment over the past 10 years which is helping to fuel an increase in applications. In respect of the crunchy subjects that the hon. Gentleman mentions, I hope that he welcomes the significant increase in applications for physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering science that there have been for next year, and which are part of a three-year trend. On the hon. Gentlemans specific question about ancient history, I know that he and my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools discussed that last night, and that we are looking at that issue.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is it not becoming increasingly obvious that the kids who go to Eton school and are educated beyond their intelligencelike some Members who serve on the Opposition Front Benchare being given additional opportunities to go to the posh universities, while working-class kids do not get the same chance? Will the Minister reverse this process?
Bill Rammell: I want applicants from all backgrounds and all schools to progress to university and to fulfil their potential. It is crucial that we help those from the poorest backgrounds to achieve that, and the Government are doing everything we can in that respect. The fact that there are increases in the numbers of applicants from state schools and from lower socio-economic groups demonstrates that we are making genuine progress.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): We do not require hot meals to be served in schools, but we encourage their provision through funding. Transitional funding for school food£220 million for 2005-08is conditional upon local authorities developing plans to begin the reintroduction of hot meals. In addition, schools and local authorities are encouraged to use their capital funding to ensure that adequate kitchens are in place. That will be supported by an additional targeted capital fund for school kitchens from 2009.
Bob Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for his answer so far as it goes, but I am sure that he is aware that three years ago this month Conservative-controlled Essex county council scrapped the school meal service for primary schools. Many schools have made alternative arrangements, but not all of them have done so, as some do not have sufficient resources or capacity. I ask the Minister to consider in particular three such schools: Montgomery infant, Montgomery county junior and St. Michaels primary. Those schools draw pupils predominantly from families whose fathers and mothers are in Her Majestys armed forces, so while dad is sent off to Iraq or Afghanistan the children do not have hot school
Mr. Dhanda: We are working closely with the School Food Trust wherever there are gaps in provision with regard to hot meals in schools, at both primary and secondary level. However, we should keep this issue in context, as there have been developments in recent years, not least the additional funding worth almost £500 million from 2005 through to 2011. The national picture is that hot meals are not served in 5 per cent. of primary schools and 0.1 per cent. of secondary schools, which equates to three secondary schools. Having said that, I accept that there are issues and pockets of problems that we have to tackle, and we are doing so in a number of ways, not least through our capital programme and the devolved formula capital, which is devolved directly to schools. As I said, we also aim to announce later this year specific targeted capital for school kitchens.
Does the Minister share my deep concern at the ongoing decline in the take-up of school meals, and is it not doubly ironic that the imposition of the deep-fried standard has actually contributed significantly to that decline? Will he adopt a more co-ordinated approach with Ministers from other Departments with an interest in this matter and review and reconsider that standard? Will he also prioritise the provision of ovens, so that the switch away from deep-frying facilities in our schools can be speeded up?
Mr. Dhanda: On deep fried, we are doing exactly the right thing. The provision of chips, for example, is limited to twice a week, and we would not want to encourageas some wouldchips being passed through the school gates. We are taking exactly the right steps, working with the School Food Trust to ensure high nutritional standards in schools.
On take-up, I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a BBC survey at the back end of last year. We anticipated take-up issues arising in the early stagesthat is not uncommonbut we are working with the School Food Trust to get some more up-to-date information, and I am confident that we will meet the demanding target that we have set of a 4 per cent. increase in the take-up of school meals by March 2008, and a 10 per cent. increase by autumn 2009.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Is the problem not twofold? First, not enough families are having a hot meal at night together at home, where children can learn the basic social skills and table manners that they should learn. Secondly, too many children are snacking on junk food on the journey to and from school. The Governments own figures, published in the School Food Trust survey in April of last year, show that 51 per cent. of parents of children at secondary school are giving them up to or more than £5 a day so that they can buy these products. Will the Government take measures to encourage families to eat at home at night round the table?
We are certainly taking measures to reduce snacking on poor-quality foods. Later this year,
new standards will be put in place, which the hon. Lady will doubtless welcome, on tuck food in schools. We will also introduce as part of our five-point plan the entitlement to cook in schools. That will ensure that children from the age of 11 through to 16 are taught to cook a nutritional meal at school, which they can then do at home. Hopefully, that will have a knock-on effect, so that children can make use at home of their education in nutritional values. I am sure that that will make a big difference not just in school, but at home.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Phil Hope): I am delighted to be here[Hon. Members: Hear, hear!]and to be telling my hon. Friend that the growth in apprenticeships since 1997 has been a major success story. In England at the end of 1997, 75,000 young people aged under 25 were engaged in apprenticeships; by the end of last year, 254,000 were so engaged. I am also pleased to be able to tell him that the proportion of young people completing their apprenticeships is now a record 59 per cent.
Tony Lloyd: May I say how delighted I am to see the Minister in his place? What he has told us about today is a genuinely significant achievement. Ten years ago, when this Government came to power, we simply were not training our young people in skills for the future. However, does he not accept that for a significant part of the population, at leastyoung womenwe are still not doing enough in the provision of apprenticeships in engineering and construction, for example? If we are to bridge the skills gap that exists and will continue to exist, we must close the gender gap. What can we do about that?
Phil Hope: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He is right; although some 47 per cent. of entrants to apprenticeships are young women, there is still an imbalance in the occupations that they take up. We are drawing up an action plan across Government with employers and the Learning and Skills Council to market to particular groups, such as young women, the benefits of taking up an apprenticeshipone of which is higher pay in construction and engineering, which my hon. Friend mentioned. We also want employer champions, especially women who have come through the apprentice system and are now leading figures in those industries, to tell other employers that they are not tapping into 50 per cent. of the work force and to explain how they could improve their productivity and profitability by utilising the talents of young women.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Is the Minister aware of the excellent scheme at Battersea power station, in which many of my constituents are involved? It is about getting women into construction. I recently went round the power station with many women who live in Putney but work in Battersea. Does he think that lessons from that scheme can be applied to other developments elsewhere?
Phil Hope: I am aware of that scheme and, indeed, we launched our further education White Paper at that location because we wanted to celebrate the success of such schemes. It might be helpful if the hon. Lady were to have a word with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who unfortunately published an article recently that described apprenticeships disparagingly. He wrote that
much training dubbed apprenticeship is not worthy of the name.
Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): I, too, welcome the Minister back. The figures are astounding, from 75,000 to 254,000, as he mentioned. However, we need to go further, because we still have an enormous skills shortage, especially of electricians, plumbers and other such trades. I wonder whether we should have some sort of scheme in which the apprenticeship starts in the last year of the childs secondary education, so as to start it earlier. Is the Department doing any work on that?
Phil Hope: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. We have a scheme called the young apprenticeship scheme, with 10,000 young apprentices aged 14 to 16 in different parts of the country. The scheme equips them well for making the choice at the age of 16. We want to go further: the Leitch report on the future of skills recommended an expansion of apprenticeships to some 500,000 a year by 2020. That is a big challenge to all employers and training providers. It is a challenge that we have endorsed and we will bring forward proposals on how to achieve that step change in the delivery of apprenticeships in this country.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): It is great to see the Minister back. I know that the whole House shares my warm personal regard for him, but I am sure that he would not expect me to pull my punches. Despite his bluff and blather, the fact is that we are training fewer people in higher level technical skills. The take-up of advanced apprenticeships has crashed by more than a quarter and is now below its 1997 level. The adult learning inspectorate report exposed the fact that one can complete an apprenticeship without setting foot in a workplace. Does not that tell you, Mr. Speakera model of the apprenticeship systemand the House that these are virtual apprenticeships, barely worthy of the name? Written answers from Ministers also show that employer engagement is falling. Will the Minister admit that the number of people in apprenticeship training at all levels is declining?
The hon. Gentleman is factually incorrect and has just insulted hundreds of thousands of apprentices, employers and those on whom apprentices rely for their training and support, who are doing a fantastic job. It is not possible to complete an apprenticeship without having to set foot in the workplace: one has to be in work to complete an apprenticeship. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity to apologise to those people for his factual inaccuracies and disparaging remarks about apprenticeships and join the Government
in celebrating their success. Half of the UK team that we are sending out to Japan to compete in the world skills championshipat the highest level possibleare young apprentices, so we can celebrate huge success in the training investment by this Government.
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): This month, we have given school staff a new statutory power to discipline pupils for misbehaviour on and off school premises. We have widened the scope for detentions, and established a new legal defence for confiscation. Next month, we will give heads the statutory power to search pupils for weapons without consent.
Mr. Robathan: I have to say that I have not noticed a reduction. When I go to schoolsin Leicestershire, not in the inner cityI get representations from teachers who tell me, for instance, that they are sworn at by pupils under the age of 14 three times before the start of the school day. I understand that one child under the age of six is expelled for bad behaviour each week. Are we not developing an anti-learning culture in our schools, where respect for teachers and authority is diminishing? The Government have offered some good new initiatives, but they also tend to mouth platitudes. They have taken no real action to sort out classrooms disrupted by poor behaviour so that those pupils who wish to learn can get on and do so.
Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is not a good example of good behaviour in public school education. I can tell him that the idea that we are all going to hell in a handcart in respect of behaviour in schools is not just an insult to teachers, head teachers and todays youngsters; it is simply not true. There has probably been the equivalent of the hon. Gentleman in every previous Parliament who pointed to a previous generation when behaviour was perfect. For the record, Ofsted measures pupil behaviour and has done so for some years. Most pupils behave well for most of the time, and the overwhelming majority of schools are orderly places. Indeed, the proportion of education in both secondary and primary schools that is satisfactory or better has increased and not declined.
The very important point is that behaviour and discipline in school is one of parents major concerns. That is why we have provided the powers that were
recommended to the Conservative Government by the 1988 Elton report that came out of a committee of inquiry. Nothing happened then, but the powers that we have made available are relevant to the hon. Gentlemans question, as they give teachers and head teachers the right to deal with bad behaviour outside the school gates. Those powers enjoyed all-party support and came into effect on 1 April. They will add to the existing powers that teachers have to reduce bad behaviour in our schools.
Andrew Gwynne: Reddish Vale technology college in my constituency has made great strides in reducing disruptive behaviour through the use of extra-curricular facilities, such as the on-site farm, to give disengaged pupils wider experience. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that the new powers to discipline, the parenting contracts and the other powers that he has just mentioned are intended to complement and not detract from the efforts to tackle disruptive behaviour being made by schools such as Reddish Vale?
Alan Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend that the powers are intended to complement schools work in that regard. From September, schools will be able to make parenting contracts in respect of behaviour without excluding the pupil involved. The anomaly in the current system is that parenting orders can be introduced only after pupils have behaved so badly that they have reached the stage of exclusion. The basic message is that parents have a responsibility when children behave badly. An important element of that is the fact that parents are included in the process through mechanisms such as parenting orders and an insistence that they go into schools to talk about their childrens bad behaviour. Teachers up and down the country are introducing innovative ways to ensure that their schools maintain an exemplary level of behaviour.
I congratulate the school to which my hon. Friend referred. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools says that he has visited it and that it is an excellent example of the work going on throughout the country.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Of course it is vital to distinguish between the disruptive child and the disabled child. Given that a number of children with disabilities, including those with the hidden disability of speech, language and communication impairment, have often been inappropriately physically restrained by staff who wrongly think that they are simply being naughty, will the Secretary of State heed the pleas of TreeHouse, the National Autistic Society and the Advisory Centre for Educationnot to mention parentswho want the guidance on physical restraint to be made statutory, compliance with it to be monitored and training provided to staff so that they may effectively and fairly implement it?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and we need to keep the issue under reviewit is constantly raised with me by parents. Getting the balance right and ensuring that we have the right level of competence and skill to distinguish between the child with genuine behavioural problems and the child who is badly behaved is something that educationists have been trying to achieve for a long time. The hon. Gentlemans proposal
for resolving the issue is one view of how we can deal with it and I promise him that I will look into it personally and come back to him.
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