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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 10 June 2008



The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Luxembourg on 3 June 2008. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended for the UK. Items on the agenda were as follows:

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact


Convergence reports by the Commission and the European Central Bank

Preparation of the European Council: Food prices

Financial Services

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Children, Schools and Families

National Challenge for Secondary Schools

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): I am today launching the National Challenge—a detailed strategy to make sure that parents and pupils experience good standards in all secondary schools, with the expectation that, by 2011, every school will have at least 30 per cent. of its pupils achieving five or more higher grade GCSEs, including both English and mathematics. This takes forward a key children's plan commitment. I have placed copies of the relevant documents in the Libraries of both Houses.

Every child deserves a school where there is effective leadership, with a strong focus on the basics: excellent teaching and learning with good discipline. Schools should have a strong ethos which promotes high aspiration and a love of learning. They must develop the talents of all their pupils and be resolute in raising standards, while supporting the needs of every child. The barriers to learning, both inside and out of schools, need to be overcome by excellent co-operation between schools and wider children's services, working seamlessly together.

The National Challenge will help make this a reality for all schools. It will end a culture of failure and low attainment. It will confront complacency and provide incentives for every secondary school to improve.

The National Challenge is founded on the principle that schools themselves must lead the changes necessary to meet the 2011 goal by working effectively, and with
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other schools, local partners, as well as parents, carers and communities, to make sure every child is supported in a way that secures educational success.

Local authorities will play a central role in the national challenge. Working with other Children’s Trust partners, they provide strategic leadership to the schools system locally and bring together all the wider services that enable children to succeed and achieve, and create the environment in which children and families can thrive. Each local authority will need to provide support and challenge to the efforts of schools and take bold steps where necessary to ensure success.

National Challenge schools will be strongly supported. The Government will now deploy £400 million of funding to secure extra support and, where needed, transformational strategies for the most vulnerable secondary schools, with solutions matched to schools’ individual needs and the level of risk that they will not meet the 2011 target. National Challenge schools—that is, the 638 currently below the 30 per cent. threshold—will be able to draw additional resources, for example in English, maths or behaviour support, to meet their needs. National Challenge schools will also be among the first to benefit from our policies to make teaching a Masters level profession.

The National Challenge will draw on lessons we have learned from the success of the London challenge programme, which has already been extended to Greater Manchester and the Black Country. This has given us experience of working with large numbers of schools in challenging circumstances in some of the most deprived areas of the country. It will also be an opportunity for national leaders of education and other strong heads to play a key role in mentoring and in leading partnerships with weaker schools.

The National Challenge will involve the creation of more partnerships between schools, where a strong school may be funded to drive improvement in a weaker one, developing and sustaining a new culture of excellence. Experience shows that such partnerships —usually cemented as trusts—can deliver substantial and rapid improvements in weak schools. Some National Challenge trusts will involve closure of a weak school, linked to a plan to reopen as a new trust school. Alongside the closure plan, we envisage an improvement partnership led by a strong local school, to build capacity and share good practice. In many cases, a powerful external partner such as a local business or university will also add energy to the trust. National Challenge trusts will receive appropriate additional funding to enable the new school to make a fresh beginning.

In addition, the National Challenge will facilitate an acceleration of the academy programme in areas where it is most needed, and particularly in those schools where previous interventions and support have not worked.

The National Challenge will be supported by a panel of expert advisers, under the chairmanship of Sir Mike Tomlinson, formerly Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools. They will provide independent expertise in relation to the most significant problems faced by local authorities with National Challenge schools.

The National Challenge is a vital step towards the Government’s ambitions to achieve world class standards in all our schools, to put an end to all low educational expectations and complacency, and to enable every child to achieve success and fulfil their potential.

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Armed Forces Personnel

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): Members of the armed forces who die on operations or in training are remembered on the new armed forces memorial in Staffordshire, which was dedicated by Her Majesty the Queen last October. For some months now, the military chiefs of staff have been giving careful consideration to how the nation might give additional recognition.

The chiefs have concluded that the time is now right to recommend a new national award for the families of those personnel who die on operations, or as a result of terrorist action whilst on duty. This award will recognise their terrible loss and the sacrifice made by their loved one whilst serving their country. The chiefs’ recommendations have been welcomed by MOD Ministers, endorsed by the cross-Government Committee on Honours and Awards and been approved by Her Majesty the Queen.

The recognition will be in the form of a memorial scroll and an emblem for wear. The scroll will be similar in concept to those that were issued to the families of those who died in the two world wars and in Korea in the early 1950s. The introduction of an emblem for the families of those killed is not something that we have done as a nation before, but similar recognition already exists, for example, in Canada and New Zealand. The chiefs of staff have also recommended that the award should be retrospective.

Much detailed work will now be required to consider what the criteria for the award should be, how far the award should go back and who will receive it, along with other issues such as the design and production of the scroll and emblem. A team has been established and is pressing ahead with this work. This is a sensitive and complex subject and we must take time to get the details right. It will therefore be some months before the award will be ready for issue and I expect to be able to announce more details later this year.

I pay tribute to the bravery and courage that the families of all our serving men and women show and I hope that the new award will provide a more visible form of recognition from the nation for those who pay the ultimate sacrifice in the name of their country.


Carers Strategy

The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): The 2006 community White Paper “Our health, our care, our say” signalled the review of the Prime Minister’s strategy on carers as part of the new deal for carers. In June 2007 we launched an extensive consultation process.

We have consulted with over 4,000 carers, adult and young, during a comprehensive six-month consultation process.

Today we are announcing our new 10-year carers strategy, “Carers at the heart of 21(st) century families and communities”. The strategy sets an ambitious vision focusing on providing greater services and support for carers over the next 10 years. Specifically, in the short
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term to kick-start the process of improving support for carers, we are investing an additional £150 million in providing breaks for carers, up to £38 million in helping carers combine paid employment and caring and over £6 million in support for young carers. Furthermore, we are committed, in the longer term, to reviewing the structure of the benefits available to carers in the context of wider benefit reform and the fundamental review of the care and support system. In total, we are investing £255 million in the short-term commitments included in the strategy. This investment builds on the annual carers grant provided to local authorities to support carers (this stands at £224 million in 2008-09).

This process, although led by Department of Health, has involved work across a number of Government Departments, reflecting the fact that this strategy sets the agenda not simply for health and social care but across government.

A copy of the document has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Home Department

Race Relations Act 1976 (Section 19D Authorisation)

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): I have made an authorisation under section 19D of the Race Relations Act 1976, as amended, to enable the Secretary of State to request that asylum applicants claiming to be a Somali or an Eritrean national submit to language analysis. This authorisation replaces the Race Relations (Immigration and Asylum) (Language Analysis) Authorisation 2008—4 February — 4 June—which will expire on the latter date.

Language analysis carried out between February and June for some Somali and Eritrean asylum applicants demonstrated that significant proportions of those tested had claimed to be of a nationality, or from a region or grouping, that was not their own in order to try to gain residence in this country. This authorisation will assist the Secretary of State to make decisions in individual cases, and to ascertain the extent of this abuse.

The Secretary of State may take a refusal to submit to testing into account when determining whether an applicant has assisted in establishing the facts of his or her case. The authorisation will remain in place for 10 months—until April 2009—at which point we will review whether it is still necessary and appropriate.

I am placing copies of the authorisation in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.

Northern Ireland

Probation Board for Northern Ireland (Business Plan 2008-09)

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I have today published the Probation Board for Northern Ireland business plan for 2008-09. The plan sets out the board’s key objectives and performance targets for the coming year.

Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Serious Fraud Office (Jessica de Grazia Review)

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:

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