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If I were able to do that, I would be pleased and I would look forward to such a day with great pride. I speak as someone who has never sung in a choir, but who has often attended such services, and I know that the professionalism and discipline of the
children is something to behold. If some of the teaching and learning from which they benefit could be spread more widely in the community, it would be a very positive contribution. These are schools that would undoubtedly benefit from any relaxation of the £2 million limit. I look forward to seeing them make representations, perhaps through my right hon. Friend, as soon as possible.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on introducing an education system that sounds remarkably similar to the one I went through in Scotland in the 1950s. May I commend to him the Bromley childrens project? It involves parents early on and it is responsible for reducing the number of exclusions per year from 50 to two in just one primary school. Will the right hon. Gentleman look further into the funding of local education authorities that are debt free, but unable to spend the credits that they receive from the Department? How does he reconcile raising the school leaving age to 18 with the ability of the same children to get married at 16?
Ed Balls: I congratulate the hon. Lady on the detail of her questions. On the first two, I offer her a meeting so that I can take up the issues with the Minister for Schools and Learners. If a return to focusing on standards in the classroom is a return to the 1950s, I welcome that. It obviously did the hon. Lady no harm at all and so much the better if we can ensure that such opportunities are spread to more children in our communities.
On the hon. Ladys last point, we are not raising the school leaving age to 18; we are raising the education leaving age to 18. We are hoping that that will be taken up in further education colleges through apprenticeships and by people in work. The important thing is to ensure that no children are leaving school at 16 with no ongoing education and that people in work are trained between 16 and 18. That is what we will legislate to deliver.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): May I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about extending schools, in particular his recognition of the need to expand provision to allow children from more disadvantaged families to benefit more greatly? When he is thinking about targeting that, will he think specifically about the situation in areas of deprivation that are close to areas of relative affluencewhere the proximity of affluent areas can inhibit the building up of the very community infrastructure that is necessary for things such as extended schools to work effectively? Will he discuss with his colleagues, perhaps in the Department for Communities and Local Government, how we can ensure that extra support is targeted on deprivation, not on whether someone who is rather more affluent lives a few streets away?
I understand my hon. Friends point. We are looking at that in the resource funding arrangements for schools and in our capital building programme. Our vision is not for schools to be open between 9 in the morning and 3.30 in the afternoon, but for them genuinely to be at the centre of their communities. We need to ensure in our academies
programme, trust schools programme and in building schools for the future that we build schools with facilities that can be open in the evenings and at weekends, that we provide exactly the kind of resource infrastructure that can serve the constituency that he mentions, and that that is at the centre of our thinking as we take forward our capital programmes.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): In his statement, the Secretary of State says that we have now turned the tide, with more than 1,100 new schools. That is good news, but can he name any constituency where a secondary school has been demolished and there are now fewer secondary schools than when the Conservatives were in power? To help him out, I can tell him that the constituency begins with W.
Ed Balls: I think that I am grateful for that question. This is the first time in the past year that I have been able to come to the Dispatch Box in a question and answer session with the hon. Gentleman without having to worry about whether I know the youth unemployment figure for his constituency compared with 1997. He will remember the particular exchange, as we all do.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome my right hon. Friends support for skills training. Does it mean that all young people in Liverpool who require skills training will be able to receive it? Will he give special attention to those who leave school without education, qualifications and a job?
Ed Balls: I will give special attention to those young people. In my experiencethis is why the Department is so importantif we are to focus on the skills needs of young people at 16, 17, 18 and 19, we have to start focusing on their ambitions and those of their parents when they are much younger, at eight, nine, 10, 11 and 12. As we work on our new childrens plan, I want to ensure that we take the FE sector and its expertise and apply that to our thinking in primary schools and the early years of secondary schools. If we are to fulfil the ambition that my hon. Friend sets out, we need to start raising the levels of ambition much earlier than we are at the moment.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): May I draw the Secretary of States attention to his comments on legislating in the coming year so that pupils will not be able to leave education until they are 18? What discussion has he had with the Ministry of Defence and his colleagues there, because 35 per cent. of armed forces recruits who join the ranks are under 18? They are a vital part of our armed forces. If this legislation goes through, surely they will not be able to join.
Ed Balls: I think the answer is that the Ministry of Defence, as an employer, will have a responsibility, as it does very well at the moment, to ensure that while in work people have effective training between the ages of 16 and 18. As I said, our commitment is to ensure that young people are either in school or college full-time, or in part-time education while they are at work. That training can happen on the job or in college. My guess is that the Ministry of Defence does it pretty well.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends statement, particularly the news of extra funds for extended schooling and personalised learning, which I think is key to overcoming disadvantage. Will he consider distributing those funds directly to schools on the basis of the deprivation statistics, to ensure that they benefit disadvantaged young people irrespective of the council areas in which they live?
Ed Balls: We will need to look at that in detail, but we intend to give schools and parents power to decide how the money is spent, and to ensure that young people who receive free school meals or qualify on the basis of the deprivation statistics have a personal entitlement to take up extended school opportunities. That is our intention, but we will need to work out the funding arrangements.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): I understand that following the reorganisation of the Secretary of States Department, the Learning and Skills Council will lose responsibility for new school sixth forms. Will it be transferred back to local education authorities, or will it go to the Department?
Ed Balls: Responsibility for the funding of 14-to-19 education, whether in trust schools, specialist schools, academies or grammar schoolswhich will reassure the hon. Gentlemanwill reside with our Department, but will be routed through local authorities rather than the Learning and Skills Council. The new Department will take responsibility for training those over 19.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Would the Secretary of State be kind enough to examine the funding arrangements for Southfield School for Girls in Kettering? The Department has designated it a specialist sports college, but it is still struggling to fund the provision of a sports hall. Surely there is no point in giving schools specialist status unless such schools are properly funded.
Ed Balls: I do not want to stray too much into the details of the school when I do not have them in front of me, but it strikes me as odd that a specialist sports school should be without a sports hall, and I should be happy to look into the matter in more detail. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me setting out the position, I will find out what advice we can give him.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab):
I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said today, but may I ask him to look closely, during his review of childrens services, at the way in which parents of children with special needs are being treated? Will he ensure that, following assessment, there is a point of access to the health and educational support that they need? As
parents of children suffering from Aspergers syndrome have discovered in my constituency, too often they are bounced from pillar to post and have to undergo assessments again and again.
Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the key findings of our review of disabled childrens services was that parents need to find ways of navigating the system. One of the best ways is to establish a lead professional, along with parents forums, who can act as an advocate. In drawing up our childrens plan we will ensure that childrens services, schools and health officials are involved at local level, in order to deal effectively with complexity that may at times be inevitable but is still quite distressing for parents.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome my right hon. Friends announcements, particularly the announcement of funding agreements for the two new academies in Sandwell. I am sure that they will enhance educational achievement in the borough. However, may I draw his attention to a body of young people whose needs often go unrecognised? The education of young carers is often impaired by their caring responsibilities for near relatives, which cause them to miss out on the educational opportunities that are available to other pupils. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to help to identify and support those people?
Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When preparing for my new brief I was shocked to learn of the 150,000 young people in England and Wales, currently under the age of 18, who are caring for a sick or disabled relative, often a parent. Social services departments and education authorities in particular need to ensure that those young people are supported so that they are not excessively burdened, their childhood is not strangled by their responsibilities, and they are given educational priority.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend on the two academies. I recently met the leader of his councila Labour leader who is a great champion of the academies programme as he knows what it can do for disadvantaged kids in his area.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends recognition of the crucial role parents play in giving their children the best possible start in life, and his commitment to addressing that. Does he agree that every parent matters, regardless of whether they are married, single, divorced or cohabiting?
Ed Balls: I completely agree: every child and every parent matters. The idea that we should stigmatise some children or parents for their circumstances, which are often no fault of their own, is a return to a back to basics agenda that we thought was in the past. My hon. Friend will have seen that the Prime Minister was present on the Front Bench but that, unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition was unable to be present as he was at a press conference explaining the comment of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) that most families
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I welcome the appointment of Sir Peter Williams to undertake the review of how mathematics is taught in the primary and nursery sectors. May I ask that he be invited to examine whether there are any correlations in respect of schools that teach maths as merely being of utility and those that teach it with excitement, flair and drive, which is undoubtedly how to succeed in engaging young people in science and mathematics?
Ed Balls: I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I also thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your guidance, which I will, of course, take on board. I apologise to you for what I did. Let me say in answer to the question that I will make sure that the Williams review addresses the issue my hon. Friend raises.
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the statement, particularly the part on the personalisation of services, but is my right hon. Friend aware that Leicestershire is still the lowest funded education authority and that we would need increased funding in order to achieve parity with many other authorities? I know from personal experience of my sons school and others in my constituency that although we want to deliver the excellence that my right hon. Friend has talked about, that will become a reality only if there are more changes in how the funding formula works for places such as Leicestershire.
Ed Balls: The F40 group has made good representations on behalf of my hon. Friends area and councils in a similar position. I will make sure that we look into this matter. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners is addressing it, and he will take seriously the issues that have been raised.
Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): I was delighted to welcome the Secretary of State when he brought the Prime Minister to Preston Manor high school in my constituency earlier today. Did his officials make him aware beforehand that had he been visiting 11 years ago, he would have found that not only that school but every school in my constituency had a pass rate of less than 50 per cent. for GCSE pupils achieving A* to C grades, and that last year the pass rate for Preston Manor and every other school in my constituency was higher than 74 per cent.? Will he pay tribute to the inspirational leadership of the head teachers and the work of the teaching staff in my constituency for that achievement?
Ed Balls: I am certainly happy to pay tribute to the head teacher I met today and all the staff and pupils of that school, who are clearly engaged with and excited about learning. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in championing the interests of all the schools in his borough. As he will know, in 1997 23 schools in London boroughs were achieving a pass rate of less than 46 per cent. for pupils gaining five or more good GCSEs; in 2006, there was only one such school. That has been achieved because of leadership such as that we witnessed at the school we visited today and the championing of such causes by Members.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role and the existence of the new Department. I especially welcomed in his statement the recognition that the future of a childs life can be determined in the first 22 months. As well as setting up the three working groups, the first of which will deal with a childs life up to seven, can he look at our investment across each stage and perhaps continue the rebalancing of investment to the earliest years in order to avoid the growth of inequality, which happens even before a child arrives at school?
Ed Balls: I will certainly ensure that I look at that particular issue. One of the key priorities for our Department is to ensure that, as we integrate services for the youngest children and as we make the most of our new network of Sure Start childrens centres, those children and parents who most need help are accessing the services in those centres. It is a priority for me to ensure that we use that network of support to target the disadvantaged to whom my hon. Friend refers, so that we can try to address the issues before they become much harder to deal with in later life.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 6 June there was a debate in Opposition time on the Governments failures on the NHS IT programme. In answer to our charges of incompetence, the then Minister of State now the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint)and the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), both prayed in aid the National Audit Office report on the NHS IT system. They used various quotations and Hansard accurately recorded what the Ministers said. It has now been reported that the Ministers have recognised that the words that they used were not contained in the NAO report. Phrases such as a positive report, much needed and well managed were not in the report. The Ministers are now apparently seeking to correct the record without coming back to the House, which has a correct record of what was said, to apologise for the inaccuracies and the mistaken utterances that they made to seek to defend their now threadbare position. I seek your guidance as editor of the Official Report as well as the person responsible for the conduct of business in this House.
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