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Jim Knight: I know that the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Select Committee on Education and Skills and, from his close analysis of statistics, he should be aware of the fact that, although we have concerns about the white working-class boys whose standards have improved but are still not good enough, their
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improvement is above the national average. We are starting to see the gap narrowed. With, for example, the measures outlined in Christine Gilbert’s review of personalised learning that we published at the beginning of the year and with some of the measures on personalisation and catch-up and stretch that the Prime Minister talked about in his Mansion house speech, we are confident that we will start to address the problem more effectively.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The Minister talked about narrowing gaps and we have seen a real and steady narrowing of the gap in key stage 2 achievement of boys and girls in writing. I am concerned, however, that the gap in reading is more variable from year to year; it seems to me that boys do better in years in which the books that they like to read are published. Does he have any proposals to do more to engage boys with reading so that they can properly compete towards the end of primary school?

Jim Knight: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the most persistent gender gap being that relating to boys’ reading. We have the national year of reading next year, the roll-out of the every child a reader programme and the success of the reading recovery programmes. We want to see those things expanded to address the persistence of that gap. Naturally, if people are struggling with their reading, in time they will be struggling with the whole of the curriculum, because it is difficult to learn without the ability to read well.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): In spite of the moderate improvements in standards in primary schools over the last decade, which the Minister referred to and which I acknowledge, 40 per cent. of 11-year-olds still leave primary school without having mastered the basics of reading, writing and maths. Synthetic phonics—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] They expected me to say that. Synthetic phonics will clearly help to improve literacy, but the TIMSS—the trends in international mathematics and science study—survey, showed that only 5 per cent. of 14-year-olds in the UK achieved the advanced level in the TIMSS mathematics assessment compared with 44 per cent. of 14-year-olds in Singapore. Does the Minister share my view that, having started to roll back the failed progressive approaches to teaching reading, we need to look closely at how maths is taught in primary schools to ensure that it follows tried and tested methods and international best practice?

Jim Knight: The Prime Minister is ahead of the hon. Gentleman. He has already announced the every child counts programme, which involves direct intervention to build on the sorts of things that we have learned have been successful with the every child a reader programme and to apply those same things to maths. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that even one of our harshest critics, Professor Alan Smithers, acknowledges that at primary school level our best improvement is in maths. The hon. Gentleman quoted some perhaps slightly misleading statistics. In maths, the figure is up 17 points, meaning that 76 per cent. are reaching the national standard at 11. That is an impressive improvement given the plateauing for 50 years that I talked about earlier.

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SEAL Programme

5. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What progress has been made in rolling out the social, emotional aspects of learning programme in secondary schools (a) in Nottingham and (b) elsewhere; and if he will make a statement. [146023]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): I was delighted to see the progress made by Nottingham local authority in rolling out the primary SEAL programme when I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency with him earlier this year. It is holding a SEAL launch for all its secondary schools this week, and it has already selected four schools to become leading practice schools to support others to implement SEAL effectively. All local authorities were briefed last month on the implementation strategy for the programme and are currently selecting which schools to support in the first year.

Mr. Allen: Teaching the social and emotional aspects of learning at secondary level will help to break the intergenerational cycle of educational deprivation in places such as Nottingham by reducing teen pregnancies and helping youngsters to maintain personal and family relationships and responsibilities and to understand life choices. Will the Minister please underline the fact that local education authorities, especially in areas of chronic underachievement in education, do not need to wait for further guidance and instructions from his Department, but should crack on and implement secondary SEAL so that it can have an impact on the life chances of young people who need that opportunity?

Jim Knight: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his detailed work in this area and for relating that strongly to his constituency. He makes sure that I keep an eye on Nottingham and I will continue to do so in looking at the roll-out. I do think that we can just get on with implementing the SEAL programme in secondary schools. I have made sure that we have increased to 20 per cent. the number of secondary schools that will have support for SEAL in the first year starting in September and I want to see that accelerate as quickly as possible.

Looked-after Children

6. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What plans the Government have to promote the improved educational attainment of children and young people in care. [146024]

11. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): How much he has allocated for the provision of individual tutoring for looked-after children in 2007-08. [146029]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): The White Paper that was published last week, “Care Matters: Time for Change”, sets out an ambitious agenda for improving the lives of children in care, with an additional investment of more than £305 million. Its proposals include improving the education of children in care through a £500 educational
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allowance for each child in care falling behind at school, putting the designated teacher on a statutory footing to improve provision in schools, appointing virtual school heads to oversee the children’s education, and a £2,000 university bursary. In relation to individual tutoring, aside from the progression pilot that is taking place in 10 local authority areas, the HSBC Global Education Trust announced a £1 million allocation for one-to-one tutoring for children in care as part of the White Paper launch.

Julie Morgan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and congratulate him on the work that he is doing in this respect. I know that he is aware that many children in care say that no one turns up to their parents evenings or goes to their school plays and sports days. What can he do so that those children get the individual care and attention that they need to attain educationally?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the problems for children in care is that the state is not a very good parent. The state ought to be acting more as if it were a natural parent. As we discovered through the most extensive consultation, including with children in care and young people—often in prison—who had passed through the care system, such children did not have a champion. Having a designated teacher and lead professional at every level is key to solving the problem. The production of the White Paper was an extremely important step, but until we actually deliver by changing a situation in which the most vulnerable in our society are treated appallingly, we cannot truly say that we are a civilised society.

Mr. Jim Cunningham: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that we support carers, especially those who look after children in care? If a child has an unsettled home life, it does not exactly encourage them to study and they feel abandoned.

Alan Johnson: I agree, but the White Paper identifies the problem that we allow children to slip into care too easily when there are often friends and family who could look after them. Once children slip into care, they are moved around too much. None of these problems is the fault of the fabulous people on the front line who foster children. It is key that the first placement is the right placement so that children are not moved around too often. If they move around too often, they move school too often, which means, especially if they move during their GCSE years, that they fail at education. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. I hope that he accepts that the White Paper includes a way forward.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I welcome very much what the Secretary of State says. However, many children in care suffer from speech, language and communication impairments and have special educational needs. What is he doing to ensure not only that such children who have statements of special educational needs receive the appropriate therapy, but that such children on school action and school action-plus receive speech and language therapy on the scale and with the intensity required so that they are not at the mercy of cash-strapped primary care trusts?

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Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue, as he has done before. When he reads the White Paper, I hope that he agrees with the focus on a care strategy for each individual child in care, including those with such specific difficulties. Things are difficult enough for children with those problems who are in a settled family. Children in care do not have the same support as them and the same champions who can go to school to argue their case. That is why the care strategy and the lead professional are key to resolving that problem for children in care, as well as many others.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Further to the answer that the Secretary of State gave a moment ago to the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) about kinship carers, when the Green Paper was published, the Secretary of State suggested that he would be examining improving the allowances and support for such carers. However, although the White Paper acknowledges the financial pressures on grandparents especially, it is rather vague about giving a commitment to improving allowances and on any specifics of the support that he would recommend. Is he still committed to improving that package and, if so, how will he do that?

Alan Johnson: Yes, I am. I am sorry that that is a bit vague in the White Paper. I hope that it will become clearer as we take the policy through because it is important. Grandparents in particular have a huge role to play. As, thankfully, people are healthier and living longer, there is a question of how we can use grandparents to greater effect.

None of these problems is really to do with money. As Martin Narey, the head of Barnardo’s says, this is one of the few areas in which the problem is not cash and finance, but the system. We have put in another £305 million. We will put more money in place to help kinship carers through local authorities so that we get this right. We are spending £2 billion already. The problem is the system, so if extra finance is required, we need to provide that.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): The White Paper says that nearly 10 per cent. of children in care over the age of 10 are cautioned or convicted of a criminal offence in an average year. Given that, will he tell me what discussions Ministers in the Department have had with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about ensuring continuity of education for children who end up spending a period in custody?

Alan Johnson: As is the case for so many other issues in the White Paper, local authorities have to accept responsibility right the way through. We propose—this will take legislation—that children should remain in care for longer, instead of being pushed out at 16, and that they should be able to stay with adoptive parents until they are 21. In addition, they will have an individual counsellor looking after them until they are 25. On children who are unfortunate enough to go through the criminal justice system, we are talking to colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about how we can co-ordinate action, but it needs to be joined up at local authority level. That is why I say that we could not have taken any of those measures without “Every Child Matters”; it provides the foundation for us to build on, so that we can properly tackle the issue.

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Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): I am sure that the whole House will wish the Secretary of State well, whatever today holds for him. May I say that I, personally, have always appreciated the courtesy and consideration that he has shown to me? I am sure that the White Paper on children in care will be one of the achievements in which he takes greatest pride. Indeed, its words on looked-after children may have a particular relevance to some Ministers present today. I remind the Secretary of State that it says:

It is also important to them to know

May I invite the Secretary of State warmly to endorse those sentiments, and does he perhaps regret that he has spent only 13 months in his most recent placement?

Alan Johnson: I cannot speculate on what announcements might be made later, but the hon. Gentleman may be interested to know—this is absolutely true—that there was a power failure at the Department for Education and Skills this morning. All the lifts and the lights are out, so the power seems to be seeping away. The hon. Gentleman is very kind. I think that he is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful Members of Parliament anywhere in the House. I see that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), who was in the Chamber, has now disappeared, but I think that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) was absolutely right in what he said on selection in his speech to the CBI a couple of weeks ago. All I can say about where we might go is that I have been in three Cabinet positions, and my shadow on every occasion has been the hon. Gentleman, so wherever I am going, I am pretty sure that he is coming with me.


7. Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): How many apprenticeship places have been created for 16 and 17-year-olds in Hull since 1997; and what plans he has for provision in the future. [146025]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Phil Hope): Some 4,400 young people have started an apprenticeship in the city of Hull since 2001. Figures are not available at local authority level for the years before that. Nationally, the apprenticeship programme goes from strength to strength. We have trebled the numbers in learning since 1997, and 100,000 people a year complete an apprenticeship. The completion rate now stands at almost 60 per cent. We want to expand the programme further so that by 2013 any suitably qualified young person will be entitled to an apprenticeship place.

Ms Johnson: I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply, and I ask him to join me in congratulating Shaun Anderson from Hull, who was the runner-up in the personal achiever section of the apprenticeship awards. Will he confirm that the investment in our young people and the commitment
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made to them through apprenticeships is in marked contrast to the sniping and negative comments of the Opposition?

Phil Hope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I attended the apprenticeship awards gala evening last Wednesday at which Shaun’s achievements and those of many other young people were recognised and celebrated. It was not only apprentices who attended but the people who trained them, employers from Hull and across the country, and sponsoring companies such as British Gas, BAE Systems, City and Guilds, BT and many others. It is good that we can celebrate success not only in the number of young people taking up apprenticeships but in the commitment and hard work that they and their supporters demonstrate. It would be helpful if the Opposition, instead of running down that successful system, could for once start to show support and celebrate the apprenticeship system.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The complete destruction of the apprenticeship system during the dark ages of the Tory years was an act of wanton vandalism, and it is a great tribute to the Government that there has been a huge increase in numbers. Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that there is still more work to be done to improve completion rates and that part of the solution is to increase the portability of apprenticeships? What plans does he have to do precisely that?

Phil Hope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have trebled the numbers. Five or six years ago, the completion rate was as low as 24 per cent., but I am delighted that a focus on the problem means that 60 per cent. of young people are now completing their apprenticeships. That is an amazing step forward, and it aligns us with our competitors in France, Germany and other parts of the European Union. We have to do even better, however, so we will continue to drive the programme forward, using innovations such as those that he has described to run the apprenticeships system, to ensure that more young people complete apprenticeships. Indeed, we have a target of 400,000 young people a year undertaking apprenticeships by 2020. That is the Leitch ambition, and it is one that we share.

Children’s Centres

8. Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the impact that children’s centres are having on levels of inequality among young children. [146026]

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): An evaluation strategy for children’s centres is being developed, and the rigorous and independent national evaluation of Sure Start is monitoring Sure Start local programmes as they transform into children’s centres. In 2005, emerging findings highlighted the fact that there were already positive overall effects on parenting and on child outcomes for most families in those very disadvantaged areas. They also identified the need to work harder to reach and support the most disadvantaged families. We have taken steps to ensure that children’s centres do so.

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