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House of Commons

Monday 30 June 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Children, Schools and Families

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): What steps his Department is taking to reduce the incidence of bullying of children with disabilities and special educational needs. [214249]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): In May, we produced new guidance that provides schools with comprehensive advice on how to prevent and tackle the bullying of children with special educational needs and disabilities. The guidance outlines statutory duties for heads and governors to prevent the bullying of those children. We are funding the Anti-Bullying Alliance and national strategies to provide support and challenge for local authorities and schools to ensure that the guidance is implemented effectively on the ground.

Lynne Featherstone: I thank the Minister for his answer. The recent Government guidance is a welcome step towards tackling such bullying, but it has not been given any serious promotion, so it is unlikely that many teachers or parents will even be aware of its existence. What specific measures does he plan to ensure that the guidance is given sufficient publicity to be effective in its aims?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I did not want to stop the hon. Lady when she was speaking, but I would prefer the supplementary question not to be read from a note. It is a response to the reply given by the Minister.

Kevin Brennan: I disagree with the hon. Lady that the guidance has not been given any publicity. It was launched by the Secretary of State and gained considerable publicity from that. Although, for obvious reasons, the Department does not send documents to every school in the country, we notify local authorities and schools through regular updates that guidance documents are available. As I said, we are funding the Anti-Bullying Alliance and the national strategies to provide the support and challenge for local authorities and schools to ensure that the guidance is implemented effectively on the ground.

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Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that proposals to abolish independent appeals panels for excluded children would remove an important safeguard and possibly lead to further inappropriate exclusions for children with special needs?

Kevin Brennan: Yes, I do. It is all very well hon. Members coming to the House and occasionally asking us to do more for pupils with special educational needs, but the Special Education Consortium says that it is concerned that such a move would increase the vulnerability of children with special educational needs to exclusion. Children with SEN are already disproportionately represented in the exclusion statistics and that change would remove one of the few checks and balances operating in the country. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, the head teachers union, has said:

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): As the bullying of children with special educational needs and disabilities by other children is still, sadly, a relatively widespread phenomenon, I warmly welcome the guidance and some of the initiatives that are unfolding. Will the Minister accept, however, that sometimes, in the form of inadvertent unkindnesses and unawareness of the duty to deliver to disabled children, there can be cases of bullying committed by teachers and other work force professionals? In that context, would he like to say something about the special educational needs units within initial teacher training, which are, I think, to be rolled out later in the year, and could yield some benefits?

Kevin Brennan: Yes, and as the hon. Gentleman knows we want to strengthen those units within teacher training. We had quite a discussion about that on the Floor of the House during consideration of a recent private Member’s Bill. He is absolutely right that on occasion, things can be said and actions taken that might constitute inadvertent bullying. It is clear that the most important thing is for all of us to see pupils with disabilities and special educational needs principally as pupils and human beings, not as people with a disability or a special educational need.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): To follow on from that, clearly there cannot be any excuse for bullying, whether it is inadvertent or otherwise, but one group of people who may find themselves victims are those who are seen to be slow learners, and indeed specifically those with dyslexia. Will the Minister therefore give some hope that the Government will ensure that there are specialist dyslexia teachers in each school to make sure that the untapped potential of youngsters is unlocked for the rest of their lives?

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Jim Rose’s review is looking at the issue of dyslexia and dyslexia teaching in schools, and he is quite right that pupils with dyslexia might find themselves subject to bullying of that kind. It is fair to say that this Government have done more on bullying than any Government ever. We are spending £3.7 million this
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year on anti-bullying programmes. I think it is also fair to say that there used to be a culture in schools of “Bullying does not happen in our school.” I am glad to say that that is no longer acceptable.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I visited a special school in the midlands a while ago. It was facing closure, although children with special educational needs had flourished there after failing previously in mainstream schools where they had been bullied. They now face the prospect of being returned to those self-same schools.

Given Mencap’s estimate that eight out of 10 children with a learning disability have been bullied and six out of 10 of them physically hurt, together with Baroness Warnock’s findings that enforced inclusion makes children with disabilities and SEN likely to encounter bullying, is not the only way, or one way, to reduce this problem for the Minister to announce an immediate moratorium on the closure of special schools?

Kevin Brennan: Children should go to special schools because such schools are right for them and their special educational needs. The idea that a child in mainstream education who has a special educational need should be sent to a specialist school because he or she is being bullied is a fundamental misconception.

The rate at which special schools have been closing has slowed in recent years, and the percentage of pupils attending them went up last year.


2. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): How many academies he expects to be operational by the end of 2008. [214250]

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): May I request your indulgence and that of the House, Mr. Speaker, and ask the House to join me in offering best wishes to my Department’s parliamentary clerk, Mr. Mike Watts, who is retiring from the Department today after 21 years of loyal service?

Eighty-three academies are already open. A further 49 will open this September, and two more in January 2009. As part of the national challenge, we plan to open a further 80 in 2009 and 100 in 2010. That will bring the total to more than 300.

Dr. Cable: As one who is working with my local council and the Department to facilitate two of those academies in the face of a strong anti-academy campaign from the local Conservatives, may I ask the Secretary of State to help remove one of the obstacles to the programme, namely his Department’s insistence that the council carry financial risk from cost overruns although the schools will not be owned or run by the council?

Ed Balls: We are very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support and that of the local authority, Richmond, in connection with the two academies being planned in his constituency. As he will know, discussions are in progress with the Swedish education group Kunskapsskolan. It is probably true to say that Labour and the Liberal Democrats have always been rather supportive of aspects
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of the Swedish model, but it does not surprise me that when pushed into power the Conservatives find supporting it rather more difficult.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s point about cost overruns, it is important for us to obtain value for money and to ensure that local authorities work closely with the sponsor, the governing body and our Department. We work to get things right on a case-by-case basis, but it is important for the risks to be shared. I assure the hon. Gentleman that cost overruns will not be an obstacle to progress for the academies in his constituency.

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): Two weeks ago, the final appeal against the Isle of Sheppey academy was lodged by Cheyne school governors. If my right hon. Friend cannot answer my question now, could he possibly make a statement clarifying to parents on the Isle of Sheppey where their children will go this September? They have not a clue at the moment.

Ed Balls: It is obviously important for us to provide certainty for parents and for the young people themselves. I am sure that we shall be able to proceed. In our experience academies win the support of both parents and young people, but I am happy to examine the details and clarify the position for my hon. Friend as soon as possible, so that no more concern will be caused locally to children and parents.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What information are the Government collecting on academies’ individual policies in order to understand what makes certain academies very successful, and then spread best practice to others?

Ed Balls: It is important for us to do that. What we know from our education system is that strong leadership, great teachers, a motivating curriculum and a culture of aspiration are key ingredients in schools. The reason why, in recent years, academies in some of the most deprived parts of our communities have achieved faster-rising results than the average is the strong leadership that they have established. However, I am keen to ensure that as we expand our academies programme in the coming years we do more to enable the lessons we have learnt from academies to be used in other parts of our school system. There is currently discussion of the possibility of one of the best head teachers in the state system, who works in a community school, moving to an academy in Leeds. Learning can go in both directions, but we must make use of it.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): As the Secretary of State will know, a separate but linked aspect of the academy programme is studio schools, which are more vocation and business-oriented. There is a fund to be bid for, and a bid will be made by the Beaufort institute in my borough. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the money for studio schools will be separate from the money for Building Schools for the Future in the local authority?

Ed Balls: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are currently discussing about six studio schools, which are a particular kind of school that brings the workplace into the school environment, and we will make sure that the funding is genuinely additional to
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the funding that is already going into the Building Schools for the Future programme in the areas that are chosen.

Building Schools for the Future

3. Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): If he will make a statement on progress in the Building Schools for the Future programme. [214251]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): Following the selection of eight authorities for an accelerated start this summer, announced on 23 June, 80 local authorities are now engaged in BSF. With 13 BSF schools now open and 23 more to open in September, rising to 200 a year from 2011, there is real pace and momentum in the programme. We are consulting on the management of waves seven to 15, and we will announce details of when the remaining local authorities will join BSF when that process has concluded.

Ann Coffey: I represent one of the most deprived areas in Stockport and the UK, and the attainment of the young people in the area at GCSE grades A* to C is significantly worse than that of young people in other parts of the borough. The schools they attend need either rebuilding or extensive repairs. I hope that Stockport will bid for BSF capital, and I hope it will be successful, but does my hon. Friend agree that that bid is an opportunity for Stockport to bring forward proposals that will improve the attainment of young people in this particularly deprived area and enhance their life chances?

Jim Knight: I agree with my hon. Friend. She has been a hearty champion of the needs of the children she represents, and in particular their attainment and the relationship with the BSF programme. It is important that the Liberals, who run the council concerned, understand in submitting their strategy for change that it is more than a building programme; it is about educational transformation. While I cannot prejudge the outcome of the consultation, which closes this week, the proposals it contains include criteria additional to those of educational and social need in the prioritisation of projects, and ensuring that deliverability and readiness to deliver are important aspects of the new programme.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): In what year is it anticipated that the Cowes high school on the Isle of Wight will be rebuilt?

Jim Knight: It is up to the hon. Gentleman’s friends in the Isle of Wight council to come forward with the appropriate plans. We have increased tenfold the amount of capital allocation to local authorities. As I have just explained, we are currently consulting—that will finish this week—on the authorities that are in waves seven to 15 of the BSF programme. That includes the Isle of Wight. If it can put in a good enough proposal that meets the criteria that will be agreed around the turn of the year, and that includes Cowes high school, it is possible that the rebuilding could be moved forward.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I ask my hon. Friend to remember that the Education and Skills Committee conducted a thorough inquiry into BSF. There was a Treasury examination of the
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programme at that time, which I think is still going on, but does he recall that the key recommendations we made were that the new buildings must be more sustainable in this age of climate change, and that new ways of teaching and learning needed far more research and implementation in these schools?

Jim Knight: I remember well the Select Committee inquiry that my hon. Friend chaired, and I am looking forward to returning to the Select Committee in due course to discuss the latest inquiry into BSF. Sustainability is important; all schools in BSF must meet the minimum environmental standard of BREEAM—Building Research Establishment environmental assessment method—“very good”. We have released additional funding for 234 schools in BSF and the academies programme to support the implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy measures in school sites to enable this requirement to be met, and we have a zero carbon task force which is looking to go beyond that. On teaching and learning, as I have said, this is an educational transformation programme, and not just a school building programme. How we can use the opportunities of a new environment to inform better teaching and learning is a fundamental part of what authorities need to consider when they submit their strategy for change.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): May I first say to my hon. Friend how pleased I and the people of Tamworth are that we are in one of the accelerated schemes, with up to £100 million being spent on our schools by our Labour Government? However, given that it is an accelerated scheme, he will appreciate that we had little time for consultation. Can he therefore give me, and my constituents, a guarantee that consultation will be meaningful and that if we come out at the end with a different model, that will be given full consideration if we have to change the original concept?

Jim Knight: It is certainly important that parents and local communities be consulted as authorities plan for and deliver the huge investment that the Government are putting into schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I am very happy to discuss further with him his concerns about the current plans, if he needs to reflect them on his constituents’ behalf.

Teacher Recruitment

4. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What steps he has taken to recruit more teachers of (a) mathematics, (b) science and (c) modern foreign languages. [214253]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): There are significant financial incentives for students taking a postgraduate certificate of education in priority subjects and courses to improve subject knowledge in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Transition to Teaching will encourage more career changers to teach mathematics, science and information and communications technology. Teach First’s expansion will allow more top graduates the opportunity to teach shortage subjects in challenging schools. We have trained 4,000 new primary teachers with a languages specialism to support the development of language teaching in primary schools, which is expanding fast.

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