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Ed Balls: The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes, absolutely. We expect Ofsted to be as rigorous in its inspections of children’s care homes as in its inspections
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of schools. We must ensure that where Ofsted highlights failures in provision, we act. One of the more general themes of the children’s plan is that we need Ofsted to inspect across schools and children’s services, in relation to the range of every child matters objectives and all the measures of well-being, including the way in which schools and children’s services work together. That includes looked-after children.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Why would it be more attractive to parents if a new primary school shares a site with a police station with cells?

Ed Balls: I have read the children’s plan, but I do not remember a proposal for police stations with cells. However, the plan does include a proposal for safer schools partnerships, which involve community safety officers and police working in schools to help children be safe in their local communities. We will take that forward, and I hope that every school will belong to one of those partnerships in which the police work with schools. If the right hon. Gentleman shows me where the proposal for police cells in schools is in the plan, I will explain it to him.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Given my right hon. Friend’s response to the every disabled child matters campaign, does he agree that the funding that he outlined should indeed be spent on the services relevant to the problems that exist, if only as an example to other parts of the United Kingdom?

Ed Balls: When we conducted our review of the life chances of disabled children and their families, and allocated extra money for respite care and other services, we consulted across the country. Welsh and Scottish MPs were active in those consultations. In fact, my right hon. Friend led our parliamentary consultation with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble). There was widespread expectation that the money would be spent not only in England but elsewhere, and that the Barnett consequentials would be spent on disabled children in other parts of the United Kingdom. That is happening in Wales but, to my knowledge, it has not happened in Scotland, where the funds have been diverted to cut council tax. I am very disappointed indeed that the needs of disabled children and their families are not a priority for the Scottish Executive.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Does the Secretary of State really believe that a nursery school is incapable of delivering the highest quality care unless it employs two graduates? Does he accept that if the English are to become less bad linguists, they must learn the grammar of the English language if they are to have a hope of learning a foreign language? Will he ensure that that comes first in primary schools?

Ed Balls: My answer to both questions is yes. Teaching grammar is an important part of literacy in primary schools, and we have allocated money for graduates in the early years setting to make sure that language and communication are an important part of early years learning. If I misunderstood the question, I apologise, but I agreed with that excellent intervention.

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Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): In reference to his birth date, may I remind my right hon. Friend that two weeks before he was born, his father and I journeyed up from Norwich to watch Norwich City FC beat Manchester United—a match full of star-studded players—and I think that that had a big effect on his formative years? To be serious, may I ask him about special needs? I welcome the fact that he mentioned dyslexia, but what about autism and Asperger’s? Although those reviews are under way, there are problems now. Every MP has constituents who are struggling to make ends meet and deal with those problems. We cannot wait until 2010, as there is a problem now. We need more schools and teachers, and more help for struggling families.

Ed Balls: I thought that my hon. Friend was about to raise the issue of excessive drinking by young adults, which may have occurred on that train on 18 February 1967, after Norwich’s surprise victory as a member of division 3 south against Manchester United in the FA cup—one of the highlights of my pre-life, given that I was born seven days later. Why my father was at the game, rather than at home has always been a mystery to me. [ Interruption. ] He was with my hon. Friend.

To answer my hon. Friend, we have put substantial amounts of extra money into supporting special needs in this year’s settlement and for the next three years. I have announced reforms to try to improve the way in which we spot dyslexia in the early years of primary school, but following the Bercow review into some of those matters, the Ofsted review will give us an important opportunity to assess whether we are getting that right and whether we need to do even more in future.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware how grateful my constituents are that the Government went into listening mode before publishing the children’s plan, by way of reading the written submissions that a large number of my constituents made or through meetings with him and with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who also had meetings with Islington constituents? Of the many suggestions in the children’s plan, they will be particularly pleased to hear that there will be free nursery school education for two-year-olds.

Ed Balls: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s role in our consultation. I know that a number of Members had consultation meetings with local parents, schools and children and made submissions to the plan. I hope that that work will carry on over the next year, because we need to do more in our local communities to put in place the play facilities and the youth facilities that are needed and to involve parents more in schools. We will ensure that we provide the materials for hon. Members to keep consulting in future.

On nursery care for two-year-olds, I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a major part of our agenda to reduce child poverty and the causes of child poverty, by making sure that from the earliest years children in disadvantaged communities get the support and learning that they need. For those 20,000 children, this will not be a gimmick, but a life-transforming experience.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Given that one in 10 three and four-year-olds are not accessing their free entitlement to nursery places, and
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that a number of evaluations of Sure Start and children’s centres have shown that the most disadvantaged families are not necessarily being reached, alongside the 20,000 extra places that the Secretary of State announced today, what further measures will he take to make sure that the most disadvantaged are benefiting from these policies?

Ed Balls: We are addressing that issue in two ways—first, through the extra work that we are doing through Sure Start to reach out to the families that the hon. Lady describes to ensure that they take advantage of the services on offer. Sure Start has a continual obligation to keep reaching out further into those communities to find parents who need help and are not getting it. The second way is through the investment that we are making in the early years work force. More quality and more graduates in the early years is the best way to persuade parents to take up their entitlement and to do the best by their children. I hope that the measures on quality will encourage many more parents to take up the opportunities available.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): I welcome the plan, which is a step in the right direction, but I am worried. In my home town, where we have the brand-new Blyth community college, the go-ahead has just been given for a brand-new academy right next door. I wonder how the college will fare, seeing that academies always get more money per pupil.

Ed Balls: To reassure my hon. Friend, academies do not get more funding per pupil compared with other schools. Academies are being taken forward as part of the building schools for the future programme. I have had a number of discussions with him on these matters, as have members of my Department, and I am happy to keep discussing these matters with him to ensure that what we do together is in the best interests of all young people in his constituency.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. There are a large number of Members standing. I have allowed up till an hour, and I can go over the hour, provided that the supplementaries are sharp and that we talk not about football matches, but about education.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): May I welcome the inclusion of young carers in the plan. A group of young carers from the national young carers forum attended the House last week and told the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), about all the issues that affect their education and their lives. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the expert parent advisers, plus the social care reforms announced by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health yesterday, will help those young people start to enjoy and be free to enjoy their childhood?

Ed Balls: I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving us more time. That is a reflection of the importance of the plan. I will keep my answers short. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) on her leadership. It was her intervention last week and
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her persuading of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that ensured that the money was in the plan to support young carers over the next three years.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The House will welcome the recognition in the Secretary of State’s statement of the problems with pupil referral units. If ever there was an example of where, unfortunately, in the past 10 years the most vulnerable people have been let down, it is there. The number in those units has doubled from over 7,000 to over 15,000, yet the number getting a good GCSE is 0.4 per cent. Will the Secretary of State give us some detail about what he will do to ensure that standards rise in those units, and perhaps a little more about the pilots that he would like to see to obtain a proper replacement for them after 10 years of failure for those very vulnerable pupils?

Ed Balls: I am going to strengthen regulation; I am going to put £26 million aside over the next three years to pilot alternative forms of provision, including one to see whether studio schools can play a role in this; and, subject to Sir Alan’s further recommendation, I am going to implement the Steer recommendation next year that we should go ahead and make exclusion partnerships compulsory for all schools. That is the best way to ensure that we do right by the education of pupils who are excluded—we need to continue to support them so that they can do well in the future.

Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s plan, but does he accept that healthy eating is a major contributor to the well-being of our children? Will he support my private Member’s Bill to help tackle obesity, and his ministerial colleague, the noble Baroness Royall, who said in the other place on 27 November that we need a ban on advertising high-fat, salty and sugary foods before the 9 o’clock watershed?

Ed Balls: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his leadership in highlighting the importance of healthy eating among children, and I can reassure him that, although I will need to consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and cannot give an indication today of the Government’s view on my hon. Friend’s Bill, we will ensure that the wider issues that he raises are taken forward in our child health strategy in the spring.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The Secretary of State knows that one of the most serious shortcomings in our schools at the moment lies in the unacceptably high number of children who move backwards between the ages of 11 and 14. Is it not the case that under his new testing proposals it will be impossible to know whether that situation is improving or getting worse in particular schools?

Ed Balls: The exact opposite is the case. Our proposals to test child by child on the basis of level, but also to expect them to move level by level, year by year, will enable us accurately to measure for each child and for the school whether children are making progress and to measure the level that they reach at any point in time. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that on that point he is wrong. Also, I apologise for the fact that there is nothing on grammar schools in the plan.

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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s proposal for a safe place for every child to play, but is he aware that Slough borough council, when challenged to produce a play strategy, planned to close local play areas rather than repair the dangerous and crumbling equipment in them? Will he place a duty on every local authority to ensure that there are safe play areas in every neighbourhood, and penalise those local authorities that take this opportunity to cut their local play areas?

Ed Balls: Given that this is a matter for local decision, if in the end councils of whatever political colour choose not to prioritise children, it is hard for me to intervene directly. If Slough borough council has heard the Opposition’s contribution to this, it may be rather encouraged in its view that children’s play areas are gimmicks and wheezes rather than serious policy. However, we will ensure that Ofsted inspects across all every child matters outcomes, across schools and children’s services, and I encourage my hon. Friend to lead her own campaign with local people to ensure that, through the Big Lottery Fund, she gets new centres and also that play centres are available in her constituency. I fear that she may have to rely on her own leadership if it is not forthcoming from her Liberal Democrat council.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition that CAMHS has a capacity problem. Following the comments of the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), may I ask the Secretary of State to recognise that there is a substantial segment of services that CAMHS cannot offer children and young people with mental health problems? I am thinking particularly of those who have experienced traumatic situations, for example. Will he ensure that the review will give adequate consideration to the funding that voluntary sector organisations need to provide the services that CAMHS will be unable to provide, even post-review?

Ed Balls: The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the important contribution that voluntary organisations make in providing support for such children. I guarantee that such issues will be considered in the review. The review is not about whether we should improve CAMHS, but about how we can do so. In my view and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, the issue is not only about capacity, but about how we use the money to serve children’s needs best. We will ensure that the review is done well and then seek to implement its recommendations.

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement on the children’s plan. He will not be surprised that I wholeheartedly welcome his announcement of the £18 million over three years for teacher training specifically for special educational needs.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that my private Member’s Bill is about special educational needs; I hope that it will get a fair wind through the House. Will he consider allocating part of the £44 million, which he announced for the next three years to enable teachers to study for master-level qualifications, to teachers wishing to gain specialist qualifications in special educational needs such as dyslexia?

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Ed Balls: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her leadership. We have spoken about dyslexia issues. As she will know, the money that we announced last week will not only go towards considering how we can spot dyslexia early through the every child a reader programme, but establish whether dyslexic children’s needs are best met through ECAR or specialist dyslexic help.

We are studying the detail of my hon. Friend’s Bill. It is important and I am very hopeful that we will be able to support it.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that young people in inner-city areas such as mine will welcome his announcement on youth service provision. However, does he recognise that one of the things that has bedevilled youth service provision—historically, a non-statutory structure—is that it has always been easy to cut? Although I welcome the fact that big capital schemes are coming on board, it will be necessary to make sure that the revenue consequences are guaranteed and locked in for the long term.

Incidentally, it would be churlish of me to mention that Manchester United has got over the defeat in 1967.

Ed Balls: It was the highlight of Norwich City’s 100 years of history.

In taking forward our commitment to 30 adventure playgrounds for eight to 13-year-olds in disadvantaged communities, we are allocating not only capital but £5 million a year in revenue to make sure that there is money for supervision, which is important for such facilities. I agree more generally that it is important to make sure that youth services are properly funded not only in capital but in revenue terms. We are giving a lead, although a lot of the responsibility also falls to local authorities.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend saw first hand the success of the building schools for the future programme when he visited Bristol Brunel academy—the first BSF school in the country—with the Prime Minister in September. I welcome today’s announcement that there will be new guidance for BSF schools to ensure that, when possible, other services will be co-located with them. Will that apply only to schools currently in negotiations about BSF?

Ed Balls: We will do that where possible. I understand, from discussions that I and the Minister for Schools and Learners have had with Partnerships for Schools, that a lot more flexibility exists than local schools and authorities are aware of. We will seek to be clearer in guidance about what can be done. When it is necessary, we will do more on guidance and flexibility to allow co-location to occur. The Minister and I will be happy to discuss with my hon. Friend the detail of any scheme, although the flexibility may already be there.

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