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The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): I meet regularly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to develop the Governments programme for improving child health and well-being, which includes a transformation in the provision of short breaks for families with disabled children.
Mr. Harper: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. I am pleased with what his Department has done on this issue and with the money that it has given to local authorities. My county, Gloucestershire, is one of the pathfinders. One of my reasons for asking him to talk to the Department of Health is that the Government committed, in the comprehensive spending review, to the NHS matching the funding that his Department makes available. On investigation, I have found that that just is not the case. In Gloucestershire, the primary care trust got exactly the same rise as every other PCT. Gloucestershire is a pathfinder, but has no extra money to provide the necessary services. Will the Secretary of State talk to his colleague the Health Secretary about putting that right?
Ed Balls: As the hon. Gentleman has said, we are seeing a transformation. There will be a £280 million increase in spending on short breaks in the next three years from my Department, and a further £90 million in capital spending. Local authority by local authority, that will lead to a doubling, on average, of spending on short breaks, and a fivefold increase in some cases. That will be greatly welcomed by families with disabled children for whom short breaks are often a lifeline in the difficult job that they do.
I fully understand the hon. Gentlemans point about the importance of money being matched through PCTs and the health service, and I have talked to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), and the Health Secretary about that in detail. The Health Department rightly takes the view that PCTs have a responsibility, area by area, to find money from their overall budgets to match our spending. Such decisions should be for PCTs, but we are clear, nationally, in our Department and in the Health Department, that PCTs must find the money to fund short breaks. They will be held to account by parents, families and, I hope, by hon. Members on both sides of the House if they do not find the money to do that. Our joint health strategy will ensure that that happens.
Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): At a recent conference in Blackpool, I spoke to parents whose children suffer from various forms of cancer. Children who are disabled because of a life-limiting illness often need respite caresometimes from health services and sometimes from properly trained social care workers provided by local authorities. Will the Secretary of State ensure, in his discussions with his colleagues in the Health Department, that those families have appropriate, integrated packages to support them through what are often difficult times?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends work on preparing the way for the Aimhigher plan for disabled children, which we are now implementing. One of the key aspects of the report on this matter was the
importance of ensuring that we provide guidance and support for parents so that they can navigate what is often, for them, a complex system, in order to deal with their childs multiple and complex needs. It is important that we do that for all aspects of a childs care, including short breaks. In the past, respite breaks have often been seen as providing respite for the parents and siblings. In the transformation of short breaks that we are pursuing, we are also trying to achieve a transformation in the experience for the children themselves, and to make the short breaks genuinely fun and enjoyable. For that to happen, the children must get the care that they need, including the health care. That is why my hon. Friends point is so valid. I shall be discussing this matter with the Health Secretary as we take forward our joint child health strategy this summer.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Does the Secretary of State recognise the very special needs of families with children with an autistic spectrum disorder, who are desperately in need of the occasional break? The environment for those children is very specific and must be appropriate to their needs. They thrive on familiarity and often do not respond well to change or to different circumstances, but those breaks are essential, as the Secretary of State has acknowledged, for the parents and siblings as well.
Ed Balls: The hon. Lady is quite right. For all children with a learning disability or a physical disability, a short break can work and be trusted by the parents only if they can be confident that it will provide the care and support that that individual child needs, and that the child will be secure. That is true for children with physical disabilities, but it is also true for children with a learning difficulty such as autism. I have visited the TreeHouse school in north London and seen the intense way in which professionals provide care throughout the day. I have also seen how the parents provide that care all on their own in the mornings and evenings, and during the school holidays. For those parents, a short break is vital, but it must be tailored to the needs of the child.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): Young people, their families and communities in Warrington and elsewhere are united in calling for attractive and safe youth facilities where young people can meet their friends, take part in positive activities and access support services. We are committed to meeting that demand. That is why, last month, we launched myplace, a new national programme of capital investment which will make available £190 million over the next three years to provide new or improved youth facilities.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, but what can he do to ensure that Lib-Dem and Tory-controlled councils take advantage of the money that is being provided by the Government, so that areas
in my constituency, such as Burtonwoodwhich get a youth bus only twice a week and have little access to the town in the evening by public transportactually get the youth facilities that residents are asking for in every survey carried out, but which are constantly being delayed?
Kevin Brennan: All that we can do is to encourage the local authorities concerned, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be doing everything in her powerincluding asking this question todayto encourage her local authority to apply for the funding. It is extremely important that when these facilities are put in place the young people themselves are consulted, along with the local community. May I add that the local Member of Parliament should be consulted as well?
Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend congratulate the friends of Westy park, who are involving local young people in a major project to draw up plans for play, sports and leisure facilities in one of the most disadvantaged wards in Cheshire? Those facilities are urgently needed.
Kevin Brennan: I am happy to do so. It is clear from the research that has been undertaken that, where young people are involvedwhether in the design or in the management and running of a facilitythe projects are much more successful. That is why young people are an integral part of the myplace initiative.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Notwithstanding the admirable efforts by the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) to improve the lot of young people in her constituency, why did the figures released last week by the Youth Justice Board show a 45 per cent. increase in youth crime in the Warrington area, with crime by girls up by 60 per cent., and a 27 per cent. rise in hospital admissions in Warrington for alcohol problems involving children in the past three years? Chlamydia rates have risen by 50 per cent. in the north-west over the past five years. Those figures are, sadly, replicated across the rest of the country. Are not the Government failing our young people in that, rather than promoting youth facilities with urgent education programmes to encourage responsible attitudes to sex, drinking and youth crime, they seem more intent on demonising young people yet again by staging desperate stunts with fake hoodies in Crewe?
Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman is wandering rather off piste. Nevertheless, let me deal with the issue of Warrington. I think that the whole House would want to join me in expressing sympathy to the Newlove family in respect of what we all recognise as an appalling case that took place there recently. The key is to work in partnership, nationally and locally, to try to solve these problems. That means that there are local responsibilities as well. We are playing our part nationally with record investment in youth facilities and we will soon publish our new youth alcohol action plan. The Government are doing their bit; it is also necessary for it to happen locally.
8. Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the London, Manchester and Black Country Challenges; and if he will make a statement. 
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Since 2003, our London Challenge programme has brought wholesale improvements in secondary schools, with results rising faster than nationally. Those successes will now be extended locally and across the country. The programme has already been introduced in Greater Manchester and the black country and our proposed new legislation will ensure that every school is a good school, with local authorities using their powersand Challenge using its powersto intervene when necessary.
Mr. Bailey: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Sandwell schools in the black country have improved their educational performance significantly since 1997, but it is recognised that there is still further to go to meet the skills demands of local employers. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how much money will be targeted on schools in the black country and in what specific ways work will be done with the schools to raise the skills levels?
Ed Balls: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in praising Sandwell council, which last year had the seventh biggest improvement in school results in the whole country, and the 20th biggest increase over the past 10 years. I am happy to praise local authoritiesConservative, Labour or Liberal Democratthat make progress on standards. I refuse to run down the contribution of local authorities in the way that Conservative Members do at every opportunity. It is quite right, however, to continue to work with Sandwell so that results continue to improve in the future. I also support the council in its work in opening academies. We are allocating £23 million to the Black Country Challenge over the next three years, but the money will be well spent only if it is spent in partnership with local authorities rather than in opposition and conflict.
The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): There are five designated childrens centres in Crawley, reaching 4,500 children. Over the next three years, there will be a further £28.8 million for what we expect to be a further 17 centres in West Sussex, including in Crawley.
I am deeply grateful for that response. Anyone who has stayed close to Sure Start centres will know about the fantastic work that has gone on in them. It was right to concentrate on the most needy children first. Now that the service is going to be universal, what steps can my right hon. Friend take to
ensure that county councils do not plead poverty in the future and then fail to use that money for those children that desperately need it?
Beverley Hughes: Of course we have enshrined in legislation the requirement that local authorities, along with other key partners like primary care trusts and Jobcentre Plus, provide integrated services on this model for children under five and their parents. I expect local authorities to abide by that legislation, but I also hope that they will do so enthusiastically, as there is no doubt from the feedback from those working in childrens centres and from the growing and measurable positive impacts on children and parents alike that this service was much needed. It is going to grow and I hope that it will have a positive benefit for every child in the country by 2010.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Minister accept that in Crawley, in Staffordshire and everywhere else the best possible centre is the family? What is she doing as a Minister in a Department that carries that word in its title, to encourage families and not to institutionalise children, irrespective of their backgrounds?
Beverley Hughes: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman, althoughthe Conservative party has recently recognised this, rather belatedlysome families want some support in bringing up their children. That is part of the services that childrens centres are providing. In particular, those in Crawley have developed an important standard of excellence in the services that they are developing for parents, including services for fathers, grandfathers and male carers, and talking toddlers groupsall those things that are helping parents with what in todays society is perhaps the increasingly difficult job of bringing their children up well.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): Since 1997, we have doubled funding per pupil and put more than 200,000 more adults in classrooms. Our childrens plan sets out how we will deliver a world-class education system: personalised learning, progression, Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer, Every Child Counts, tutors, curriculum changes, academies, new 14 to 19 diplomas, raising the participation age, work-force reforms and continued investment will continue to transform standards. And we have recently announced £200 million to achieve our ambition to have no secondary school below the 30 per cent. floor target by 2011. And on capital, we are spending £45 billion on the Building Schools for the Future programme to rebuild or refurbish every single secondary school in England.
Jim Knight: Well, in among that long list of things that we are doing, my hon. Friend should pick out Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer and Every Child Counts, which aim to ensure that every child leaves primary school with the required standard. We have 100,000 more than in 1997 achieving the required standard in English and maths, but we need to go further. The effect of a positive environment is not to be underestimated, and the Building Schools for the Future programme will proceed without the £5.2 billion black hole in its finances that the Conservative party has in its BSF programme.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Last week, the chief inspector of schools, Christine Gilbert, told the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families that standards had stalled. She also said that 20 per cent. of children leaving primary schoolone in fivedid not have the literacy and numeracy skills to prosper at secondary school. It is hard to square the words of the chief inspector of schools with what the Minister has just told us. Will he tell the House from what date he thinks improvements stalled under this Government?
Jim Knight: We always say that we need to do better, but I do not agree that progress has stalled. Key stage 2 results are up 17 percentage points from 63 to 80 per cent. in English since 1997, and up 15 percentage points in maths at that stage. At key stage 3, there are similar improvements. We see that across the board. Indeed, reading is a subject that the Conservative party rightly talks about a great deal, and the hon. Gentleman will have seen the excellent results of the reading recovery programme, which were publicised last week. They show that we are making really good progress in dealing with the most difficult literacy problems in our primary schools.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): In that long list of excellent Government initiatives, I do not think that I heard my hon. Friend mention teaching methods and classroom arrangements. Over a couple of generations, misguided teaching methods were damaging to our childrens education success, but there are now demonstrably good methods that are much more successful. Will he use his good offices to ensure that those poor methods are finally eliminated and that the best methods are adopted?
Jim Knight: Of course, there was not enough time to list all the many things that we are doing to raise standards in schools. Improving teaching is certainly one of them. Ofsted, which the Conservative party is keen to quote, tells us that we have the best generation of young teachers that we have ever had in our schools. One thing that we are doing further to develop the early years of teaching is developing a masters qualification in teaching and learning, so that teaching can become a masters-level profession. Part of that will involve ensuring that we have proper rigour.
Recently, I was at a school in Calderdale, seeing the progression pilots. I saw real rigour in key stage 3 English and maths teaching; teachers using progression pilot techniques such as the APPassessing pupil progressmethod were able properly to identify the level that each child was at in their class and help them to progress to the next one.
Jim Knight: Clearly we could have a long sedentary exchange about the right hon. Gentlemans grammar, but I can tell him that 80 per cent. of pupils are currently leaving primary school having met the national standard in English, while 77 per cent. are leaving having met it in maths. Obviously we want 100 per cent. to achieve the national standard, and although we are moving in the right direction, we still have some way to go.
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