2 Apr 2008 : Column 49WS

2 Apr 2008 : Column 49WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 2 April 2008


United Kingdom Coins

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): The Royal Mint has today unveiled the definitive reverse designs for new United Kingdom circulating coins from the one pence to the one pound piece. The designs were chosen following a public design competition to which over 4,000 entries were submitted. Coins bearing existing designs will continue to circulate alongside those bearing the new designs. Copies of the new designs have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Children, Schools and Families

Adoptions from Cambodia

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I am today announcing the outcome of a review of the suspension of adoptions of Cambodian children by UK residents.

In June 2004, the then Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), announced the suspension of adoptions in response to concerns raised and investigated by officials from the DfES (now DCSF) who visited Cambodia, by the British Embassy in Cambodia and, separately, by other stakeholders about the intercountry adoption process in Cambodia.

A review of the suspension was announced last year and was carried out by my Department. The purpose of the review was to update the information on which the suspension was based, to find out what concerns, if any, remain valid and whether there are any other concerns about practices taking place.

The review work assessed the current situation in Cambodia regarding intercountry adoption, including what changes, if any, to practice and legislation have been made in the three years since the temporary suspension was introduced. The review also took account of Cambodia’s accession to the Hague Convention (on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption 1993).

On 12 December, the UK lodged an objection to Cambodia’s accession to the Hague Convention, in accordance with article 44 of the convention. Cambodia’s accession to the convention therefore has no effect as regards relations between the UK and Cambodia.

2 Apr 2008 : Column 50WS

Evidence from the review demonstrates that: adoption legislation, practice and procedure in Cambodia remain insufficient to ensure the proper protection of children and their families; lifting the suspension at the current time would expose Cambodian children and their families to an increased risk of improper practices that are contrary to the principles of the Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Hague Convention) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The suspension of adoptions of Cambodian children by UK residents therefore still remains in place. I will of course consider the effect of any changes to adoption legislation and practice in Cambodia in keeping the suspension under review.

I am also announcing today the outline timetable for the implementation of the statutory provisions relating to the restrictions of adoptions from abroad in the Children and Adoption Act 2006. I intend to implement sections 9 and 10 and, in so far as they are not already in force, sections 11 and 12 of the 2006 Act in summer 2008.

Qualifications Regulation

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): I announced plans last September to set up an independent regulator of qualifications and tests. In December, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills I announced, for consultation, more detailed proposals. Subject to legislation, the new Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (Ofqual) will act as independent guardian of standards across the tests and qualifications system in England. The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) will develop curriculum, assessment and qualifications. I wish to update the House on progress with these plans.

As we develop and reform qualifications and tests, it is critically important not only that they are of the highest quality, but also that they are seen so to be. The new arrangements that we are putting in place will help to achieve this, underpinning high quality qualifications and tests with high levels of confidence. In making this change, we are building on the principles that underpinned the establishment of, for example, the Monetary Policy Committee and the Statistics Board, which have improved public trust in the systems they regulate through a combination of independence, clarity of remit and a transparent accountability framework. The joint command paper (Cm 7281) “Confidence in Standards: Regulating and Developing Qualifications and Assessment” published in December sought views on the roles and powers of the independent regulator and of the development agency for curriculum, assessment and qualifications into which QCA will develop. The consultation period closed on 10 March. The proposals were generally well received, and there were lots of valuable and detailed points on which we will need to reflect as we develop our detailed proposals. We will publish a formal response to the consultation paper by mid-June.

In the meantime, we will continue as planned to make those changes we can achieve within the existing legislative framework, so that we can secure benefits from the
2 Apr 2008 : Column 51WS
reforms as soon as possible. As a first step the Office of the Qualifications and Examination Regulator will shortly be established on an interim basis carrying out the QCA’s regulatory functions across this spring and summer test and examination period. While working within current legislation, Ofqual will be operationally independent. These interim arrangements will be an important step towards the new regulatory landscape that we are developing, and in themselves will contribute to confidence in the standards of the tests and qualification system in England.

In the consultation paper on the reforms we confirmed that we were setting in motion an appointments process for a chair of the regulator. Following a process overseen by the Office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments, I am delighted to tell the House that Kathleen Tattersall OBE has been appointed to be the first chair of the new independent regulator. Kathleen is the chair of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (which today receives its Royal Charter). Until 2003 she was director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), having been chief executive of a succession of awarding bodies over the previous 20 years. She will join the QCA Board and lead Ofqual in its interim form. Subject to legislation, she will become the regulator’s first chair when it is established as an independent statutory body. Kathleen Tattersall and Ofqual’s acting chief executive, Isabel Nisbet, will play critical leadership roles in setting up the new organisation, setting its strategic direction and developing the new regulatory framework which it will operate.

Setting up a new regulator will help ensure that learners of all ages and their teachers feel that their hard work and achievements are properly recognised. We are confident that these reforms to the regulatory landscape will both provide greater transparency in the arrangements for regulating and developing qualifications and tests, and secure the confidence in standards on which they depend.

School Admissions System

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): I made a statement on 11 March in which I set out concerns about compliance with the school admissions code and admissions legislation, based on an internal review of the published admission arrangements of schools in a sample of three local authorities. I explained that my Department was verifying the findings with the local authorities and schools concerned, and that we would present the detailed information to Parliament once we had given them the opportunity to respond.

I have today passed the results of this exercise onto the schools adjudicator to inform the work he is doing to ensure full compliance with all statutory requirements for admissions in 2009. A copy of my letter and a report including tables summarising the results of this exercise have been placed in the Library of the House.

I have also today published draft amendments to the Education and Skills Bill for consideration at Commons Report. The effect of the amendments will be to require local authorities to report to the schools adjudicator on admission arrangements in their areas; to extend the
2 Apr 2008 : Column 52WS
adjudicator’s powers so that he can act where he considers that any admission arrangements are not compliant with the statutory requirements; and to improve the process of consultation on admission arrangements in order to ensure that parents and communities can contribute to the development of admissions policies for their schools. Copies of the draft amendments have been placed in the Library of the House.

We are publishing today a step-by-step guide to the admissions and appeal processes for parents. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House. The guide contains straightforward advice for parents on all aspects of choosing a school place for their child, and sets out what they can do if they have concerns about the legality of a school’s admission arrangements. A copy of this guide will be made available for every parent applying for a school place in 2009.

My Department will publish further detailed proposals in the early summer to improve the application and allocation process for parents and to further strengthen the admission system so that it works for all children. This will include an improved process for ensuring that parents and communities are consulted on admission arrangements for their schools and improvements to admission forums.

The steps I have taken today will help ensure that every parent has a fair chance of getting their child a place at a school of their choice, and that no parent or child will be disadvantaged by unfair admission arrangements.

School Playing Fields

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): Before October 1998 there were no checks in the system to prevent the sale of school playing fields. Local authorities could sell school playing fields and use the proceeds for whatever purpose they saw fit.

Since 1998, under section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, all local authorities and maintained schools in England have needed the consent of the Secretary of State before they can dispose of a school playing field or any part of a school playing field.

Published guidance sets out the criteria for giving consent and makes it clear that a disposal will only be allowed if the sports and curriculum needs of schools and their neighbouring schools continue to be met. Community usage of school playing fields is considered in decisions and any sale proceeds must be re-invested in outdoor sports facilities where possible, or, if not, in indoor sport or education facilities.

In addition, since July 2001 all applications to dispose of school playing fields have been scrutinised by an independent School Playing Fields Advisory Panel. The Panel comprises representatives from Fields in Trust (formerly the National Playing Fields Association), the Central Council of Physical Recreation, Learning through Landscapes, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Local Government Association.

The Panel advises the Secretary of State on the extent to which applications meet the published criteria for giving consent. The Panel brings a rigorous independent scrutiny to the assessment process.

2 Apr 2008 : Column 53WS

In November 2004 the rules governing the sale of school playing fields were tightened so that the sale of a playing field is an absolute last resort with local authorities having to demonstrate that they have exhausted all other sources of funding. Sale proceeds must be used to improve outdoor sports facilities where possible and new sports facilities must be sustainable for at least 10 years.

This Government have not committed itself to end the sale of surplus school playing fields in any circumstances. What we did commit to end was the previous position of putting local authorities in a position where they had to sell those fields simply to pay for essential repairs. Our record levels of capital investment in schools - from under £700 million in 1996-97 to over £8 billion by 2011 - have also helped bring that situation to an end. 1,100 completely newly
2 Apr 2008 : Column 54WS
rebuilt schools have already been built - with brand new sports facilities and outdoor play areas. Another 2,450 schools have made massive improvements to sports provision, with newly built sports halls, all- weather pitches, gyms, playgrounds or changing rooms.

This Government legislated to ensure that school playing fields are sold only where they are genuinely surplus to local needs, including those of neighbouring schools. This Government have ensured that the proceeds of sales are invested mainly in providing new sports facilities, including new grassed pitches, all-weather pitches and sports halls. Where no sports improvements are needed the money from sales must be used to improve educational facilities.

The attached table shows details of the 19 applications which were approved on this basis in 2007.

2 Apr 2008 : Column 55WS

2 Apr 2008 : Column 56WS
Approved Applications to Sell an Area of Land Capable of Being Used as a Small Sports Pitch of 2,000m(2 )in 2007
SchoolLocal AuthorityApprovedDetails

Beanfield Community College


17 May

Closed school—proceeds used to improve sports at other schools.

All—weather hockey and tennis pitch.

Floodlit, all-weather, multi-use games court.

Four-court sports hall.

Blackdale Middle School


2 November

Closed school—proceeds used to improve outdoor sports at four other schools.

Two multi-use games courts.

One new grass pitch.

One new playing field.

One tennis court.

New outdoor cricket facilities.

Cliftonville Middle School


8 May

Closed school—proceeds used to improve sports at eight other local schools.

New all-weather, multi-use games courts.

New grass pitches.

Upgrade gymnasium facilities.

Deedmore School


20 April

Closed school—proceeds spent on new school.

New hydrotherapy pool.

New outdoor classrooms.

New sensory garden.

New all-weather pitch.

Eastwood Comprehensive


24 May

Sale of part of playing field at closed lower site—proceeds used to improve sports provision on upper site and other local schools.

Improved outdoor facilities and indoor sports facilities at upper school site.

New sports pitch.

Green Lanes Primary


12 March

Closed school—proceeds spent on sports at other schools.

Grading and levelling of grass pitches.

Improved grassed pitch.

New hard play area.

New sports hall.

Harefield Primary


13 December

Surplus playing field sold to fund sports hall.

New sports hall.

New hard games court.

Hayesfield School and Technology College

Bath and NE Somerset

12 March

Off-site playing field sold to fund new on-site sports provision.

New sports Hall.

New dance Studio.

New all-weather pitch.

New running track.

New netball and tennis court.

Highbury Primary


16 May

New build—surplus playing fields sold to fund new sports facilities.

New hard play area.

New games court.

New sports hall.

Leigh C of E Primary


5 April

Closed school—proceeds used to improve sports at other schools.

New hard play area.

New sports hall.

Meadway School


4 April

Closed school—proceeds used for sports facilities at new SEN school.

New grass pitch.

New game court.

New outdoor play space.

New sports hall.

Therapy and hydrotherapy pool.

Pembroke Primary School


8 May

First school site sold—proceeds used to fund sports facilities at new primary schools.

New external play area.

Improved sports hall.

New reception play ground.

Refurbished playground.

New netball court.

New sports hall.

Portland School


8 January

Surplus playing field sold to fund new on-site sports facilities.

New all-weather pitch.

New multi-use games court.

Improved running track.

New sports hall.

Improved grassed pitches.

Senacre Technology College


4 September

Closed school—proceeds used to fund sports facilities at two new academies.

New multi-use games court.

Improved grassed sports pitch.

Two new gymnasiums.

Sir Bernard Lovell

South Gloucestershire

30 January

Sale of part of detached playing field to fund new on-site sports facilities.

Two improved grass pitches.

Two floodlit, all-weather, multi-use games courts. Two six-court sports halls.

St. Michaels C of E Controlled School


8 May

Closed school—proceeds used to fund sports and education at other schools.

New hard games court.

New soft games area.

Two classroom extensions.

St. Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Primary


17 May

Sale of part of detached playing field to fund on-site sports facilities.

New all-weather games court.

Improved grassed pitches.

Refurbishment of two sports halls.

Tyning Hengrove Junior School


8 May

Closed school—proceeds used to fund sports at other schools.

Purchase new school playing fields.

All-weather, multi-use games court.

New sports hall.

Warblington School


20 November

Sale of surplus playing field to fund new sports facilities.

Floodlit, all-weather, multi-use games court. Refurbished school tennis court.

New sports hall.

Next Section Index Home Page