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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that 90 per cent. of the academies and specialist schools in East Anglia are members of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust? The Education and Skills Committee took evidence yesterday from Sir Cyril Taylor, and what he and the trust are asking for is a full, healthy discussion about what we are doing in secondary education—not just in academies but in grammar
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schools. We are also grateful to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) for starting a very good discussion about the future of existing and intended grammar schools.

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend has made a huge contribution to this area. The evidence submitted by Sir Cyril Taylor to yesterday’s hearing was interesting, because he identified a need for academies to co-operate and co-ordinate their activities with other schools in their area. That was the one element of criticism in the National Audit Office report last year. Of course, academies have to take these things a step at a time. Sir Cyril also mentioned the importance of the 164 existing grammar schools forging links with failing schools nearby and making a contribution to lifting standards of education in the entire community. That is an important contribution to the debate.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The provision of books to the academies is important in the delivery of education, but does the Minister accept that the role played by grammar schools in East Anglia and across the UK is important in providing choice and good education opportunities? The party to my right has now embraced the Government’s policy on city academies—doing a not-so-elegant somersault on grammar schools and using rhetoric with which the Sinn Fein Minister in Northern Ireland would be quite pleased—but will the Minister assure us that he will not use that change of heart as a smokescreen for launching further attacks on grammar schools?

Alan Johnson: The Conservatives are indeed a party to the hon. Gentleman’s right; that was an accurate description. During the 10 years that we have been in government, we have given the assurance that we have no plans to get rid of any of the 164 grammar schools. We will not allow any new academic selection, and our admissions code made that absolutely clear. We have put in arrangements for parental ballots if local communities feel that they ought to move to a non-selective system. That is the way to ensure that local communities are happy with their education system and that we make progress in the 21st century. I do not believe that that involves the extension of grammar schools.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State not only do everything that he can to ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) has his city academy, but will he invite the Leader of the Opposition to open it?

Alan Johnson: It depends on how the Leader of the Opposition takes this forward now. The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) has made his mark and passages from his interesting speech resonated from “The Future of Socialism” by Tony Crosland in the 1950s. However, with all the knives out behind him, I am worried that he will not manage to make progress. If he does, he will be the Leader—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] He might be the Leader of the Opposition. If he does, he will be the shadow Secretary of State for
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Education for a long time to come. I very much hope that that will involve him in helping us to open 400 new city academies.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): Of course we strongly support existing grammar schools and it is an excellent idea that they should co-operate more with schools that should benefit from their academic expertise. The Secretary of State is right; we have been focusing on how, in East Anglia and across the country, we can use education to improve social mobility in the large parts of the country where grammar schools do not exist. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) is rightly concerned because last week, for the first time, the Secretary of State said that there would be “a limit” on the number of academies. The very same week, the BBC reported that the Prime Minister said:

So why is it that when the Prime Minister is leaving office, the Secretary of State is taking his foot off the accelerator and going cool on academies, when we on this side strongly support academies and do not see why there should be any limit on their number?

Alan Johnson: We are hardly taking our foot off the accelerator. There are 47 academies now. We have a manifesto commitment to have 200 academies by 2010 and we have just announced that we are to go on to build 400 academies. [Hon. Members: “Higher, higher.”] I will come to that in a second. Given that the specific intention of academies is to build them predominantly in areas where education has failed generations of children—in areas of deprivation—400 fits that bill. When we get to 400—it will take many years of a Labour Government with the right finance to get there—obviously we can look at where we can go further.

The hon. Member for Havant raised this important issue of social exclusion in a thoughtful speech and mentioned it in his question. He said that

That is absolutely our view, but I have to tell him that it is not the view of his colleagues and it is not the view of the leader of his party. Here is what the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said specifically in response—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Rob Wilson. [ Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman wanted to ask a supplementary; I saw him standing.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): I will ask a supplementary, which, as the question is about East Anglia, had better be about East Anglia. When the Secretary of State finally gets around to meeting the local authorities in East Anglia, will he explain to them in great detail why he has put the limit at 400? I simply do not believe that it is a question of funding. The Secretary of State has been so committed to the academy programme from the very start. Will he please explain to those local authorities and mine why we cannot have more academies?

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Alan Johnson: Let me repeat: we have 47 academies. In 18 years of Tory rule the Conservatives managed to establish only 15 city technology colleges. That was a good idea, but the Tories could not match it with the funding—a pathetic performance. We now have 47 academies; we will have 200 by 2010, and we have announced that we will move to having 400. It is not our intention that every school should be an academy. Academies are an important part of local education provision, but there are many splendid schools that have turned things around. Stockwell park high school is not far from here; 70 per cent. of its children are on free school meals and more than 50 per cent. speak languages other than English. When we came into government, 11 per cent. of its children got five good GCSEs; it has now achieved a rise to 57 per cent. with a 41 per cent. pass rate in English and maths and 85 per cent. in science. Therefore, not every school needs to be an academy. Academies are needed in places where education has traditionally failed and where there is an input of children from deprived areas. They act as bastions around cities and have the effect of lifting education throughout the area. An announcement that we will go 200 beyond our manifesto commitment is hardly taking our foot off the accelerator.

Universities (Key Subjects)

6. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What recent steps the Government have taken to ensure the maintenance of capacity in key subjects following the closure of departments in universities; and if he will make a statement. [138958]

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): We are allocating an extra £25 million a year through the Higher Education Funding Council for England to maintain capacity in key subjects, but the best long-term way of achieving that is to raise and stimulate demand and we are making genuine progress on that. The latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service application figures show increases of more than 10 per cent. in many strategically important subjects, and last week I announced that we will launch a national campaign to promote careers in science and other key subjects to young people, parents and teachers.

Andrew Rosindell: I thank the Minister for that reply, but is not the real problem that children are not being enthused to study these subjects? What is he doing to ensure that children throughout the country—especially those in the maintained sector—are being encouraged to study languages and sciences at school in sufficient numbers to make university departments viable?

Bill Rammell: With regard to modern foreign languages, the most important change that we can make is the commitment that we have made to roll out a modern foreign language in every primary school by the end of the decade; that can transform the situation. With regard to science subjects, we are making changes to the science curriculum to make it more stimulating and engaging. We are introducing a statutory entitlement to a course of study leading to two science GCSEs and we are making triple science more
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accessible and available from 2008. Backed up by the significant investment that this Government have introduced, we have a way forward on this issue.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): While I welcome what my hon. Friend said about the Government’s current plans, is it not time to introduce a high degree of central planning in the provision of university courses so that we make sure that we have sufficient engineers and scientists in particular for our long-term economic needs and we do not leave things to the vagaries of short-term market forces?

Bill Rammell: The key is not the number of science departments but the number of science students, and the fact is that we have 130,000 more science students today than we had 10 years ago. I disagree with my hon. Friend in that I think it would be wrong for central Government to dictate what subjects are taught in which universities. That would run counter to the policy of allowing universities to play to their strengths, which has led to us having one of the best higher education systems in the world. However, we do not stand back. We have invested an extra £25 million to promote the strategic subjects, and we expect institutions to work with the funding council when considering a closure to ensure that the numbers are rolled out elsewhere regionally and there is not a drop in capacity. As I have said, we are doing an immense amount to stimulate demand from students, which is the key to this issue.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): The closure of university science departments is likely to have an impact on the recruitment of science graduates for teaching. With that in mind, how are the Government progressing in meeting the Chancellor’s pledge in last year’s Budget to recruit an additional 3,000 new science graduates for teaching?

Bill Rammell: As I said earlier, applications for science subjects next year are up by more than 10 per cent. That demonstrates that we are fulfilling that demand. Driven by the extra support—including bursaries and golden hellos—delivered by the Government, we have seen a 30 per cent. increase in applicants for teacher training in science subjects over the past 10 years. We are genuinely making real progress on the issue and I wish that, just for once, the Liberal Democrats would recognise that fact.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): But one in three physics departments at universities have closed or merged in the last five years. Is not one of Britain’s greatest post-war scientists, Sir Harry Kroto, the winner of the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1996, right when he says that he holds the vice-chancellors responsible, in that they bleat about freedom but divert money earmarked for the sciences into soft courses, thereby eliminating science departments in favour of trendy cheap courses that train students for non-existent jobs. Is he not right?

Bill Rammell: I respect my hon. Friend’s views on many issues, but I fundamentally disagree with him on this point. The key to the issue is the number of science places and we have increased the number of places for
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physics—the issue he raises—in the past 10 years and applications are going up. If he honestly believes that sitting in Whitehall dictating to university departments what subjects and areas they should teach is the way forward, I do not agree.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Surely the problem has to be attacked at both ends. It is strange that media studies are so popular, while science and language courses are removed from universities. The Minister is right that we need to enthuse youngsters to study science and languages. Last Friday, I visited the excellent Clitheroe royal grammar school in my constituency and saw the new language block that has just been completed. I do not care who opens it—the Secretary of State, who would be delighted to do so, or the shadow Secretary of State— [Interruption.]—but it will open in September. Even better, the school will open the facility to the community so that members of the public can learn foreign languages.

Bill Rammell: I think that every hon. Member will have heard the implicit rebuke of the Leader of the Opposition’s position on grammar schools. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to do more to set out the opportunities that exist when young people engage in science subjects. We need to get across much more clearly the substantial additional graduate earnings premium that goes with undertaking the study of science. The really radical change in the study of modern languages that we are making is ensuring that by 2010 every child in every primary school can study a modern language.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): I agree with much of what the Minister says about not dictating to universities, but does he agree that a fundamental problem is that the league tables posit a false equivalence between crunchy subjects, such as maths, physics, chemistry and modern languages, and other subjects in which it may be easier to get an A, with the result that the former are increasingly ghettoised in the independent sector? The result is that at Bristol university, some 48 per cent. of students doing modern languages are from the independent sector. Is it not time for the Minister to join us and stimulate the uptake of those subjects in all schools, boost applications to universities and help to keep university departments open by giving core academic subjects proper weighting in the league tables?

Bill Rammell: It is the hon. Gentleman catching up with us, rather than the other way round. The change that we are making in the league table to demonstrate the proportion of youngsters taking a GCSE in a science subject will be a significant step in the right direction. However, an area in which we agree is that the problem is fundamentally about stimulating student demand. The changes that we are making to the curriculum, the guarantee of two science GCSEs, the increased accessibility to triple science and the 250 after-school science clubs that we are rolling out are all part of the way forward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us in taking that programme forward.

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Extended Schools

7. Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): If he will make a statement on funding for extended schools. [138960]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): Since 2003, the Government have invested £840 million to support the development of extended schools. The Government are determined to sustain that investment to enable all children to access extended services. More funding will be available over the next spending period, including an additional £217 million in 2010-11, to enable the most disadvantaged children and young people to access at least two hours a week of free after-school activities and activities during the school holidays.

Ms Buck: Extended schools can be of genuine benefit to children, parents and communities, but is it not true that the implied offer of wrap-around services, before and after school, with a range of activities, cannot be provided in schools such as those in my constituency for £10 per pupil per year? Some 1,000-pupil secondaries with very high levels of deprivation have received a derisory £6,000 for the whole year to provide extended school services. Will my hon. Friend investigate the way in which local authorities top-slice the Government grant for extended schools, and will he look again at how we fund extended schools in deprived areas that cannot sustain a charging policy so that they can provide a meaningful extended schools offer?

Jim Knight: I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for extended schools and her acknowledgement of their effectiveness. She has been assiduous in her representations to the Minister for Children and Families and myself on the ability of children from deprived backgrounds to access extended services. We take seriously what she said about top-slicing, and it is something that we are happy to investigate. Of the nearly £180 million made available to local authorities in the last financial year, Westminster received £545,000, which includes capital funding and funding to a specific school as a full-service extended school. Of the £346,000 remaining, £263,000 was devolved to schools and £111,000 retained by the local authority. If my hon. Friend thinks that that is too much top-slicing, I am very happy to work with her on that.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Activities that take place in extended schools include homework clubs and remedial lessons in reading. Such remedial lessons would not be necessary if we got the teaching of reading right in the reception class in the first year of primary school. The Minister will be aware of research that shows the effectiveness of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading. Following the Rose review and the changes to the national curriculum, what plans does the Minister have to assess synthetic phonics teaching in our primary schools? Will he ask Ofsted to assess the training given to teachers in the use of synthetic phonics and their teaching methods?

Jim Knight: A thorough assessment was carried out by Jim Rose, and only reported in March 2006. It follows significant improvements in key stage 2 in
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English over the past 10 years, and the number achieving the national standard has increased from 63 per cent. to 79 per cent., which means that 95,000 pupils a year have improved their reading. We commissioned the Rose review because we need to do better. We are in the process of undertaking the sort of training that the hon. Gentleman raised, and we will certainly make sure that that is effective, alongside the national reading campaign, “Every child a reader”, and initiatives that I shall discuss when I respond to the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham).

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I greatly welcome the rolling-out of the extended schools programme, which has made a genuine difference, particularly in the disadvantaged areas of my community, where some children live in overcrowded accommodation and do not have access to computers at home. However, head teachers have expressed concern that some parents view the programme as a glorified babysitting service. What more can be done to engage parents so that they take an interest in what their children do during those extra hours at school?

Jim Knight: The wrap-around child care from 8 am to 6 pm is just one part of the extended schools programme. There are five different aspects to the programme, including catch up and stretch and parental support. That component is something that needs to be developed to achieve exactly what my hon. Friend rightly raised.

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