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26 Feb 2008 : Column 1069

Let me say from the outset that I share my right hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the good work that supplementary schools are doing. We in the Department see their potential to make an even bigger contribution in the future. We know for a fact that supplementary schools can help to boost a young person’s academic performance in the way that she mentioned. The National Foundation for Educational Research’s pupil research survey in 2001 showed that 84 per cent. of pupils who attended supplementary schools said that they helped them with their wider schoolwork. The research also suggested that supplementary schools helped to improve behaviour by helping to motivate and engage older pupils who might have become disaffected with mainstream school. We are particularly interested in the role that supplementary schools can play in helping us to narrow the attainment gap that exists for certain ethnic groups.

It is also clear that supplementary schools have a broader social value. They enrich young people’s knowledge and experience of their own cultures in a way that goes beyond what the national curriculum covers. Supplementary schools allow pupils to learn their mother tongue, gain a deeper understanding of their cultural heritage and pick up new skills and experiences from older generations that might otherwise have been lost. Supplementary schools therefore help to keep intact the rich cultural diversity of our society, which is something that we all should celebrate and cherish.

My right hon. Friend mentioned several examples of thriving supplementary schools, particularly one from her constituency, and I know that there are many more throughout the country. For example, my colleague Lord Adonis recently visited the Ebony supplementary school in Greenwich. It has taught more than 4,500 pupils, it boasts its own publishing house and it runs teacher training courses focused particularly on helping African and Afro-Caribbean pupils. Its work is valued by the local community and is equally valued by my Department.

I would like to say today that the door is very much open for supplementary schools to make these important contributions. We are taking steps to support them in that, as I will show in a moment, but they will have to face up to the challenge that we are setting them, too. That is, they will have to ensure that they work in closer partnership with mainstream education bodies. Supplementary schools work best when they work alongside local schools—when they literally supplement what the local school is doing, by sharing information and resources and by exploring how their activities can link back into what the children are doing in the mainstream curriculum.

When local schools and supplementary schools get their heads together and exploit these synergies to the full, they can make a very big difference. The problem is that, too often, the relationship between supplementary schools and mainstream schools is not good enough. Some good working relationships exist, as my right hon. Friend pointed out. Another example is Heathcote supplementary school in Waltham Forest, which has established a very good relationship with its local mainstream school. However, we need to spread this best practice, and my officials will be exploring what works well in this case and other cases, and how
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best to forge better connections elsewhere across the country. I know that they will have listened with interest to the examples that my right hon. Friend gave this evening.

This debate is timely because there are, and will be, significant opportunities for supplementary schools to get involved in the extended schools programme. We are putting £2 billion into ensuring that every school offers after-hours activities and clubs by 2010. One in three schools are already doing that. The vision behind extended schools matches that of supplementary schools—namely, to expand children’s horizons, to offer them new opportunities, and to give them the chance to experience new things. We see extended schools as part of the hub of local communities—an access point for a broad range of clubs, activities and other services. We want them to examine local needs, to build links with local community groups and institutions, and to provide children and families with a tailored menu of the options available to them.

Clearly, supplementary schools can be a valuable part of this offer. We expect local authorities and schools to involve them as an active partner as they plan their extended services options, and we have said as much in our guidance for local authorities. However, for supplementary schools to make the most of these opportunities, they have to be able to show their value to the community and their willingness to work with mainstream education and with local children’s services. Hence the need to engage with the national resource centre and to take active steps themselves to build links with local schools.

My hon. Friend raised the important issue of funding. As she acknowledged, it is the local authorities that decide which supplementary schools to fund and by how much. The Government provide specific support to local authorities through the ethnic minority achievement grant, which is on top of mainstream funding and worked out using a needs-based formula. As I have already said, £2 billion is going into extended schools, some of which could be used to support supplementary schools and to make stronger links with them through the extended offer. All in all, there seems to be a significant level of financial support, which, taken together with what I am going to say in a moment about the national resource centre, shows the level of our commitment to the sector.

My hon. Friend raised the specific issue of supplementary schools being charged for premises. We have made it clear in guidance issued to local authorities and schools that they should keep the cost of renting facilities to supplementary schools to a minimum. They certainly should not be looking to make a commercial profit out of renting to supplementary schools. We are aware, however, that some supplementary schools are still facing difficulties and we are taking specific steps to help them.

Lord Adonis met representatives of Turkish and Kurdish supplementary schools in November last year. After that meeting, he made it clear that the Department would work with the sector to establish a level of charging on a case-by-case basis in London schools and local authorities. I am certainly happy to commit to Lord Adonis’s work in developing the role of a champion in partnership with supplementary schools. The aim will be to negotiate acceptable terms
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wherever rates appear unreasonable, and I hope that that process will help some of the schools that my right hon. Friend has mentioned this evening.

My right hon. Friend may also know that we have set up the independent National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education to facilitate closer working relationships between supplementary and mainstream schools, which I know she has welcomed. It was launched a year ago with funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and my Department—and it is making excellent progress. The centre is already working closely with 30 partnerships forged between mainstream and supplementary schools in cities across the country. It has established the first national quality framework for supplementary schools, which is now being introduced across the country; it has designed and launched the first nationally accredited programme of training for supplementary schools co-ordinators; and it has developed the first national membership scheme for supplementary schools. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that to achieve all of that in less than a year of operation is an excellent step forward, demonstrating the active, practical support that this centre is able to offer to supplementary schools.

My Department’s grant to the centre was initially planned to end on 31 March this year, but I am pleased to be able to tell my right hon. Friend that I have not come along empty-handed this evening. I am pleased to take the opportunity provided by her debate to announce that we have decided to extend the funding to ensure that the centre’s valuable work continues. In 2008-09 the Department will make available a grant of £350,000, and up to a similar amount in 2009-10, with arrangements to give the centre an incentive to become self-sufficient as early as possible. I hope that it was worth my right hon. Friend’s staying up this late to hear that announcement this evening. That significant funding commitment runs alongside the commitment from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to double its grant to the centre over the next three years.

Joan Ryan: That is very welcome news. Although I hope that the Minister will continue to reflect on some
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of the other issues I have raised tonight, I would not want to be churlish, so I say again that he has announced very welcome news.

Kevin Brennan: I am glad that my right hon. Friend feels able to welcome my announcement.

A strong, self-sufficient national resource centre will be much better placed to support supplementary schools, enabling them to engage more effectively and more successfully with mainstream schools.

Let me end, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by reiterating that the door is open for supplementary schools to become part of the fabric of education provision. I promise to take my right hon. Friend’s other remarks back to my ministerial colleagues for further consideration. The Department is aware of the benefits and has made it clear to local authorities that they should bear them in mind when shaping extended schools provision. It is not a one-way street; supplementary schools can take active steps to secure their futures, too. We need them to engage with schools more positively and effectively and to demonstrate their quality and the value they can bring through the accreditation schemes being rolled out by the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education.

Working in isolation is not an option. We need these schools to become more closely entwined within the fabric of our education system. That is the way by which we will harness their full potential and the way that they will convince institutions that they merit additional funding. Given the increasingly personalised education system that we are striving to create, I believe that supplementary schools have a promising future. Once again, I commend my right hon. Friend for the leadership she has shown on this subject and I am sure that, with her and our support, these schools will continue to go from strength to strength.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to Two o’clock.

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