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Holocaust Education

4. Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the contribution of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s nationwide Lessons
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from Auschwitz project to teaching of the holocaust in the national curriculum. [183682]

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): More than 1,500 students have now had the opportunity to visit the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau as a result of the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and to build on the learning that they have received through the national curriculum about the horrors of the holocaust and the lessons that we should learn from it. I can announce today that we will allocate £4.65 million for the next three years to ensure that that work can continue. I can also reassure my hon. Friend that a proper evaluation of the funding on those trips, as well as of their impact on young people’s citizenship and their understanding of the world, will be built into the HET’s work as part of that three-year funding.

Gordon Banks: I thank my right hon. Friend for that welcome answer. I have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau with school pupils from my constituency, and I stress to my right hon. Friend the importance of urging the devolved regions of the UK to put funding in place, too. Will he do that whenever it is appropriate? Will he also take this opportunity to dispel the rumour that the holocaust will be removed from the curriculum, for which my right hon. Friend is responsible?

Ed Balls: On my hon. Friend’s first point, I have not had the opportunity to go on one of those trips although my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners has. In my constituency, I ran a competition in which young people had to write an essay and the prize was to go on one of the trips. I have seen first hand, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks), the great impact that such trips can have, not only on those young people but on the whole school when they report back about the horrors that they saw. Our young people are learning lessons about tolerance and mutual respect for 21st century Britain from those visits.

I hope that all the constituent parts of the UK will use the funding available. The £4.65 million for England clearly has Barnett consequentials in this area for the devolved countries. I hope and expect that they will ensure that such visits are available for all young people across the four constituent parts of the UK.

As for my hon. Friend’s final point, let me take this opportunity to dispel that internet myth. The teaching of the holocaust is compulsory in the national curriculum for all young people at key stage 3 and it will remain a compulsory part of teaching in the national curriculum under this party—and I am sure that it would remain so under all parties in this House. The holocaust is an issue that must be learned about, studied and reflected on by all our young people. It will stay in the national curriculum.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to be a council member of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and I commend the Government for their support for this important programme. The incident at the King Fahad academy shows that anti-Semitic messages of hate are still circulating in our schools. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to deal with that important issue?

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Ed Balls: The fact is that bullying and any other kind of exploitation of difference, whether that happens on racial, religious or gender grounds, is wrong. Schools have a duty to act to stamp it out. That includes that particular school. Like all schools, it should take action when necessary. We have an inspection regime that is designed to ensure that that guidance on schools’ obligations is put into action. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners has raised the issue with the inspectorate. We will consider the issue carefully when we see the results. Bullying of any kind, including anti-Semitic bullying, is wrong and should not be tolerated in a society such as ours.

Foreign Languages

5. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): In how many primary schools a modern foreign language is taught. [183683]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): Research carried out in 2006 found that 70 per cent. of primary schools are teaching languages. That figure is up from 44 per cent. in 2003. The hon. Gentleman will know that I visited Surrey Square junior school in his constituency last December to see the excellent language teaching that goes on there. I am sorry that he was unable to join me on that occasion, and I look forward to his next question.

Simon Hughes: Southwark has a very good record of about three quarters of our primary schools teaching modern languages. Given that there has been a genuine increase in primary schools teaching modern languages, but that the number of pupils in England studying modern languages in secondary schools up to GCSE has dropped below 50 per cent., and that we are genuinely short of modern language teachers, how will we ensure that we have enough qualified teachers to give the interest and expertise at primary level that lead our youngsters to do modern languages at secondary level, too?

Jim Knight: On the day that I visited Surrey Square junior school, I also announced a 20 per cent. increase in funding for language learning. Part of that is to continue the initial teacher training in specialist language learning for primary schools. We have trained an extra 3,000 primary school teachers in language learning in the past three years. We need to continue that as we build up to the compulsion that we announced for primary language learning in the children’s plan, which comes into effect from 2011.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Would the Minister accept that the alarming illiteracy figures suggest that the one language that is not necessarily taught as rigorously as it should be in schools is English?

Jim Knight: No, I would not accept that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the number of young people leaving primary school and reaching the national standard in literacy and numeracy has increased by 100,000 a year. I am sure that he welcomes that improvement.

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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Small primary schools with small teaching staffs often cover widespread responsibilities and areas of the curriculum. In smaller schools, French may be pushed to the periphery. Will the Minister tell the House whether, in small primary schools, French is less likely to be taught, and whether there is an underlying problem with the future of small primary schools in this country on the scale that press coverage in the past seven or 10 days suggests?

Jim Knight: My hon. Friend will have noticed that I am extremely enthusiastic, in the light of such press coverage, to stress that small, especially rural, primary schools should explore the potential of federation. Nowhere is that needed more than in increasing language specialism in primary schools. The ability of primary schools to come together under a federation not only saves money through allowing them to share perhaps a head teacher, but enables them to share specialist teachers, such as language teachers, and tackle the problem.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): The Minister has given the global figures for modern language teaching in primary schools. However, is he not worried about the report from the National Foundation for Educational Research, which reveals that, for each year group at key stage 2, only half of primary schools provided foreign language teaching and only a third provided it for all year groups at key stage 2?

Jim Knight: Obviously, we examine in detail what the NFER tells us about its research—it is a reliable research organisation—as we continue with our strategy. However, the overall figures speak for themselves. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) last asked the question in 1990, when the Conservative party was in power. Then, only 20 per cent. of primary school students were learning a modern foreign language. The trend is undoubtedly in the right direction.

Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children

6. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): If he will take steps to prevent unaccompanied and trafficked children from going missing while in local authority care. [183684]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): The Government take that issue very seriously and we are therefore taking steps to address it. Existing statutory guidance for local authorities about children going missing from care applies regardless of immigration status. Last week, we published proposals to improve services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, including better procedures for identifying and supporting the victims of trafficking.

In December, we published specific guidance, “Safeguarding Children who may have been trafficked”. That includes action for local authorities and all practitioners who work with children to take when potentially trafficked children enter care to protect them from further exploitation.

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Mr. Steen: Since local authority safe houses are anything but safe, hundreds of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children go missing each year because the provisions are insecure and it would not be acceptable to lock them up. Will the Under-Secretary ensure that children trafficked into the main London airports and those elsewhere in this country do not go to local authority care homes and safe houses close to the airport, because the traffickers know that that happens? They wait in cars outside those homes to pluck the children out of them within hours of their being placed there.

Kevin Brennan: I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman does in this area. He is quite right: it is a problem that trafficked children can go missing from care, often returning to those who trafficked them. He is also right to identify the problem of keeping them secure. He may be aware that the Border and Immigration Agency published its response to the public consultation exercise last week. One of the measures announced was a response to exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman made; in other words, there is a need to place unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in a network of specialist local authorities, to ensure that they receive the expert services that they need.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): But are those local authorities going to be given the support that they need to ensure that they can keep tabs on the children concerned? It is an absolute disgrace in the 21st century that children who are at such risk cannot receive that support from the United Kingdom.

Kevin Brennan: Yes, and my hon. Friend is quite right to describe the trafficking of children as an absolute disgrace. As I mentioned earlier, the Home Office published the results of its public consultation exercise last week, which include better procedures to assess the age of children, ensuring that adults and children are not accommodated together, and putting in place better procedures to identify and support asylum-seeking children who are the victims of trafficking, while paying particular attention to those who are at risk of going missing or suffering further harm or exploitation.


7. Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to promote engineering as a career amongst 14 to 16-year-olds; and if he will make a statement. [183685]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): We are funding a new communications campaign to provide advice on subject choices and careers in science and engineering, and to dispel narrow stereotypes about engineers. We are supporting activities to excite young people about engineering, such as the science and engineering after-school clubs, which will double in number to 500 by September, while the new style of teaching and learning delivered by the new diplomas from September should attract significant numbers into engineering from the age of 14.

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Dr. Kumar: I am very happy to hear what my hon. Friend has said, but is he aware of the recent study carried out by the Royal Academy of Engineering, “Public Attitudes to and Perceptions of Engineering and Engineers”, which found that young people were least aware of what engineering is all about? I am happy that he is making such efforts to promote engineering in schools, but will he monitor the situation closely, because we do not want to be in the same situation in a year’s time?

Jim Knight: My hon. Friend is an effective champion on the issue in the House, and I know that he takes a great interest in the future of engineering. We will certainly continue to monitor things. He is right that the survey to which he referred showed that young people felt that they knew little about engineering or what engineers do. The reality is that engineering covers a wide range of interesting careers, including music, electronics and space. I hope that our communications campaign will open up young people’s eyes to the exciting world that he champions so well.

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend might be aware that Enfield has a long and proud history in engineering. I recently met north London employers, who told me that they have trouble attracting good-quality candidates into engineering. The view of an engineer as someone who wears a boiler suit, has an oily rag and is themselves covered in oil is the one that predominates. Really good careers advice is needed to reflect what the profession is actually about. Ensuring that young people have a true vision of engineering through good vocational education is also crucial, so I am pleased to hear what the Minister has said. I, too, hope that he will monitor progress on the matter.

Jim Knight: We certainly will. Last week I announced £140 million of spending on science, technology, engineering and maths-related issues, which underlines the significance that we place on them and is also a doubling of the funding over the previous three years. The points that my right hon. Friend made about careers advice and work-related learning are correct. I am sure that she applauds the work that we are doing to develop diplomas and, as part of that, to improve careers education. Indeed, there are measures in the Education and Skills Bill, which is currently in Committee, that address all those things.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): Further to those questions and answers, I welcome what the Minister has said. Does he agree that it is vital that specialised engineering skills should be taught in schools as early as possible, particularly in the light of our decision to go ahead with new build in the nuclear industry? We are very short of engineers in that field.

Jim Knight: It is because we are responding to employer demand, including in the area that my hon. Friend has mentioned, that we have focused so doggedly on the STEM subjects. I am confident that, as the strategy rolls out, the cross-government focus with our ministerial colleagues in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Treasury and the Department
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for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will enable us to respond to the skills needs of employers up and down the country.

A-level Examinations

8. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What plans he has for the future of the GCE A-level examination; and if he will make a statement. [183686]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): A-levels are long-established and valued qualifications. Their future should be decided not by any pre-emptive Government decision, but by the demands of young people and schools. We have said that, in 2013, we will review the evidence and experience following the introduction of all 17 of the new diplomas to see how the range of post-16 qualifications meets the needs of young people and supports their progression into further study and employment. We will consider the future of A-levels in the light of that evidence.

Andrew Rosindell: Before going down the road of the Government-introduced A-level-style qualifications to be offered by companies such as McDonalds, Flybe and Network Rail, does not the Minister think that we should tackle the root problem of the failure of literacy and numeracy, particularly among school leavers? The problem was highlighted in a recent CBI survey.

Jim Knight: We have made clear gains in literacy and numeracy, both at primary and secondary level, as I was saying to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) earlier. That does not mean that we should be complacent, however. We need to make further improvements pre-16 in order to make the post-16 options work, particularly as we introduce compulsion as part of the Education and Skills Bill. The accreditation of employers’ own training for qualifications has been welcomed by the Opposition as a sensible step forward in raising the value of employer-based training.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Does the Minister share our concern that too many sixth-formers in comprehensive schools are being poorly advised on their choice of A-levels, and that the admissions director at Cambridge university says that their opting for softer subjects “essentially rules them out” of Cambridge? If the Minister shares our ambition of getting more state sector pupils into Oxford and Cambridge, what measures is he taking to ensure that bright sixth-formers study the meatier academic subjects to prepare them for the top universities?

Jim Knight: We simply do not accept that some A-levels are harder or softer than others. Indeed, in 2004 we commissioned the Independent Committee on Examination Standards—chaired by Dr. Barry McGaw, the director of education at the OECD—to look into A-levels. The committee’s report concluded that no examination system at school or any other level anywhere in the world was as tightly or carefully managed as the A-level. We are also establishing a new regulator, who will continue to monitor the standard of the A-level to ensure that it is well respected by all our higher education institutions.

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Children of Separated Parents

10. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to provide relationship support and services to children of separated parents. [183688]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): The children’s plan contains a commitment to improve support during and after family breakdown, including helping children to maintain contact with both parents. My Department promotes strong families and seeks to minimise the impact of breakdown on children. Families can access services via children’s centres and extended schools. We fund marriage and relationship support through grants, and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service—CAFCASS—safeguards and promotes the best interests of children in family court proceedings.

Andrew Selous: The Children’s Commissioner for England has said that the most important cause of unhappiness in children is the threat of family breakdown. Will the Government therefore look sympathetically at the family relationship centres in Australia, which have bipartisan support and help parents to reach agreement on post-separation parenting? They also do a lot to strengthen intact family relationships and marriages.

Kevin Brennan: I know that the hon. Gentleman is very keen on the Australian model and that he has long taken an interest in that subject. I am sure that that has nothing to do with the fact that he had an Australian mother. The Legal Services Commission has recently finished piloting the family advice and information services, known as FAINS. These are aimed at encouraging the development of a more holistic approach, including clients working with their solicitors to develop a personal action plan to identify the actions that the client and other agencies will take, and the support that the client will need, in addition to that of a solicitor. So there is already a FAINS pilot in place, and we will evaluate it in the near future, perhaps before we go on to consider the hon. Gentleman’s preferred native solution.

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