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Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I entirely agree that we should be examining the transition to adulthood, particularly for young people with autism. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that in May the Department of Health announced the development of an autism strategy for adults and the transition to adulthood, and we shortly expect the outcome of the tendering for that. I agree
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that this is vital, because it is no good training children through school if we then do not manage the crucial transition stage of getting them on to further education and eventual employment.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I realise that my hon. Friend has not been in her position for very long, but will she send a message to the whole of the Front-Bench team to stop shilly-shallying on this matter? We want more action. The Select Committee produced a report on special educational needs well over two years ago, and we expect faster improvement and sharper movement than has taken place, especially on what happens to children with a special educational need, particularly autism, post-16—the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) mentioned that. That age, 16-plus, is still a very dangerous and difficult time for children with special educational needs and their parents, and it is about time the Government pulled their finger out and did something.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I take on board my hon. Friend’s comments, but it is important that we get it right—getting it right is more important than rushing in with something that might not do that. As I said to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), this age is crucial for adulthood. It is part of our children’s plan, and the Lamb review is examining innovative ways in which parents can be involved in the progress made by their children with autism, particularly during that crucial transition period.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Over the past 10 years, the number of special educational needs statements has fallen by more than a third while the number of appeals to SEN tribunals has, not surprisingly, doubled. More than a quarter of such appeals are for children who have autism. Would it not be a better start to providing support for children with autism if in place of highly adversarial, costly and stressful tribunal referrals, the Government instead promoted special needs mediation, involving parents, local authorities, independent educational psychologists and other professionals, in order to come up with agreed educational needs profile plans to help the children most and soonest by providing multi-agency support, not multi-agency buck-passing?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we certainly recognise the difficulties that parents have finding a way through the statementing process and addressing the special educational needs of their children. That is why we have commissioned the Lamb review. There are 10 innovative projects finding different ways to involve parents so that they have confidence in the system. We will review the outcome of those pilots to find best practice and what gives parents confidence, because that is the key to the problem.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Will the Minister instruct the new children’s trusts to take good notice of those institutions that have been very successful in dealing with children with autism, such as Baskerville school in my constituency? The danger is that they will try to reinvent the wheel, instead of turning to those who have had experience of doing well.

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Sarah McCarthy-Fry: It is important that we learn lessons of best practice, and that is what we are trying to do. We certainly have no intention of trying to reinvent the wheel, but it is important to listen to parents who tell us what the best practice is for their children. We are facilitating parents’ groups, for parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities, so that they can share information among themselves. It is really important to use examples of best practice and see how we can disseminate them around the country.

Sure Start

6. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): How many Sure Start children’s centres have been opened in Milton Keynes since the initiation of the scheme. [235760]

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): There are 13 designated Sure Start children’s centres in Milton Keynes, offering services to approximately 9,000 children aged under five and their families. The Government have allocated £14.7 million in capital and revenue funding to Milton Keynes in this spending review period to support existing centres and to develop a further seven centres by 2010 in order to achieve universal coverage for every single child.

Dr. Starkey: I thank the Minister for that reply. The parents in my constituency who use children’s centres know subjectively from their own experience how valuable the centres are. Does the Minister have any objective evidence of the value of children’s centres generally, and can she comment on what would be lost if their funding were to be withdrawn?

Beverley Hughes: I thank my hon. Friend for her close interest in the development of children’s centres, especially in her constituency. There is objective evidence from the national evaluation report on Sure Start. The latest report in March this year shows that children in Sure Start centre areas are benefiting significantly in some crucial areas compared with those who live in an area without a centre. The 2008 foundation stage profile results for this year also show that more five-year-olds are achieving a good level of development. Crucially, the gap between the lowest achieving 20 per cent. of children and the rest is beginning to close.

In Milton Keynes specifically, 53 per cent. of children have achieved a good level of development, compared with 48 per cent. last year. The gap between the lowest 20 per cent. and the rest has closed from 37.7 percentage points to 32. 5 percentage points in 2008. That suggests—as my hon. Friend implies—that the children’s centre programme is essential for the well-being of children and families and would be sorely missed were it not to continue.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I listened carefully to the Minister’s reply and found it disappointing that she chose not to say what the Government will do in response to the report in The Lancet last week, which yet again showed that Sure Start is failing to hit half of its targets. Most worryingly, for children and families from an ethnic minority background, some of its impact is still negative. Would it not be better if the Government were to listen to all of the research, so that we can have
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a proper debate on all the facts and ensure that Sure Start becomes the success that it needs to be for every family in this country?

Beverley Hughes: The Lancet article simply rehearsed some of the findings in the national evaluation report in March to which I have just referred. It said that in five of the 14 areas there is now evidence of significant difference between children in Sure Start areas and others. Those crucial areas include the children’s social development, behaviour and independence, the parents’ ability to parent, the home environment and the use of services. In the other seven areas there is no statistically significant difference at the moment, but we are on a 10-year journey and we are continuing constantly to improve quality. I have no doubt that in time all those measures will show a significant positive difference in Sure Start areas.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I thank the Minister for her recent visit to my constituency to see the work in progress at Broad Oak high school, which is the most recent high school to have a children’s centre located on site. In view of the remarkable achievements of children’s centres and their great popularity with parents, will she tell the House whether there is now cross-party consensus on the future development and funding of children’s homes?

Beverley Hughes: That is a very interesting question, which I am not qualified to answer. Only last week, I was with the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) and, in front of an audience of children’s organisations and academics concerned about children, she wanted to scotch the myth that the Conservative party is not in favour of Sure Start children’s centres. She gave her assurance that it was, but we saw today that she has reverted to her default position of trying to undermine Sure Start at every opportunity.

Life Skills

7. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If he will take steps to improve the teaching of life skills to pupils between the ages of 11 and 16 years in deprived areas; and if he will make a statement. [235762]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Sarah McCarthy-Fry): Personal, learning and thinking skills are embedded throughout the new secondary curriculum, which schools are encouraged to tailor to local circumstances and the needs of all pupils. Through PSHE, young people develop the social and emotional skills to make safe and healthy choices. On 23 October we announced our intention to make PSHE statutory, underlining our commitment to improving those skills among young people.

Mr. Allen: Does the Minister accept that although teenage pregnancy is a serious problem it is only a symptom of a much broader problem? Young people, particularly in deprived constituencies such as mine, do not have the right social and emotional aspects of learning that will enable them to make the right decisions in a number of fields, leading to teenage pregnancy, antisocial behaviour and lack of educational attainment.
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Will she work closely with the Department of Health to continue the great work on teenage pregnancy, and also look beyond contraception towards early intervention so that we can reach the minds of those young people when they are aged 11 to 16 and they can be enabled to make the right choices in their lives?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I know that my hon. Friend has worked hard in his area to tackle that issue. At the weekend, I viewed a DVD that has been made by young teenage mums in Nottingham. Without exception, they said that they would like to go back to the schools that they attended to tell young women not to make those choices—to tell them to use contraception and to learn how to use contraception. We have shown that effective delivery of local teenage pregnancy prevention significantly brings down rates, even in the deprived areas that my hon. Friend talks about. Our curriculum measures are in line with our recent decision to make PSHE compulsory. As we review the matter with Sir Alasdair Macdonald, we will certainly look at what we can include in those measures.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Does the Minister agree that life skills are best taught by parents backed by a full range of child-centred professionals? If she does agree, what is she doing to ensure that the work of school nurses is enhanced and not degraded?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I certainly have no intention of trying to degrade the work of school nurses. Of course, life skills are best taught by parents but it is obvious that in many cases young people do not have parents with the confidence or even the ability to teach those life skills. That is why we are looking at the PSHE curriculum in schools and looking at innovative ways in which to use that curriculum. As I have said, a review is taking place that will report next April, when we will be able to consider ways in which we should use the new statutory curriculum in order to deliver the skills that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that if both life skills and parenting skills were taught better to adolescents in deprived areas we would see fewer incidents of child abuse? Given incidents of gross abuse, such as the baby P case, does the Minister agree that it is regrettable that not much more progress has been made on the Laming inquiry recommendation about making senior service managers more accountable? It is surprising to many of us that the director of social services in Haringey has not seen fit to tender her resignation.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: We are well aware that there is an ongoing inquiry and investigation, and at this stage I do not want to comment on that in the House.

It is important that we talk to young people about parenting skills for mothers and fathers. One of the striking testimonies given by the young people in the DVD was that in all but one instance the teenage fathers of the babies did not hang around. All the young women said that it was important that those skills were taught in schools not just to young women but to young men as well.

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Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extremely important that all of us engage in conversation with our primary or secondary schoolchildren so that they can learn about the elective processes and how we can help them in future should they require help, and that in return we should listen to their opinions and worries?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: A lot of work is being done with youth councils and youth parliaments. It is important that we listen to the voice of young people. I was recently able to sit in on a meeting of young people from Derbyshire youth council, at which they expressed to me some of their hopes and concerns. It is important that we continue to listen to the voice of young people so that we and their teachers—and school nurses—can talk to them in a language they can understand.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): I am pleased that my hon. Friend has brought families to the fore in the teaching of life skills. Does she recognise the need for more family and community education units? Children need to talk to their parents pre-11, and the approach of schools should be to the whole family, not the individual child.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I entirely agree that it is important to bring parents into the educational environment. With reference to the question about Sure Start centres answered by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, we can get parents involved with children’s centres and Sure Start to give them the confidence to bring up their children and answer their questions, bringing in those wider well-being and life skills right from the start.

Youth Facilities

9. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What plans he has for expenditure on youth facilities in West Lancashire over the next two years. [235764]

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): My Department has allocated a total of £1.7 million to Lancashire county council through the youth capital fund for investment in youth facilities over the period 2008-11.

Rosie Cooper: Will my right hon. Friend comment on the impact of the youth opportunity fund and the youth capital fund across the country and in West Lancashire in particular?

Ed Balls: We are making real progress with many hundreds of thousands of young people benefiting from the investment made in recent years, but there is much more to do. I am sure that in my hon. Friend’s constituency—as in all our constituencies—a common theme is that young people, adults and pensioners all say that we need more places for young people to go after school and at weekends and more things for them to do, so that they do not just hang around on the streets. We are investing that money to make sure that there are facilities for young people in constituencies across our country.

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Ofsted Inspections

11. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): What progress has been made in his Department’s review of the conduct of Ofsted inspections; and if he will make a statement. [235766]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): Ofsted has consulted on and is currently developing proposals for a more differentiated school inspection system, under which the frequency of inspections for good and outstanding schools will reduce.

Mr. Hoyle: I welcome that answer, because the question I would have posed was that it makes absolute nonsense that continuously well-performing schools have to be completely disrupted for two days but do not even have a proper inspection. Now that my right hon. Friend will be streamlining that part of the system, will he ensure that schools that continuously perform badly get extra help and assistance not just from Ofsted reports but with guidelines on where they can improve? We all want to see the lifting of school standards, not bashing well-performing schools over the head all the time.

Jim Knight: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that, and I agree with much of what he says; it is important that Ofsted’s inspections are risk based, and that we focus attention on schools that are not doing well enough. Under proposals on which Ofsted are consulting, it will increase the proportion of satisfactory schools that are sampled from 5 per cent. to 10 per cent., so that we can ensure that we keep an eye on them. Through programmes such as the national challenge, we are focusing a lot of resources—£400 million, in respect of that scheme—on improving the schools that need it most.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Will the Minister suggest how we can ensure a seamless system of inspection, whereby we do not lose the benefits of inspection, but cause minimum disruption to schools prior to inspection?

Jim Knight: The direction of travel has been away from the long notice that used to be given to schools, which caused a lot of disruption and distorted behaviour, to short-term notice of less than a week. That minimises disruption but gives some preparation time. Ofsted proposes to pilot no-notice inspections in some circumstances, to see whether that can improve things further. However, those are matters for Ofsted, which is independent of the Department; it is a non-ministerial Government department, and it is up to Ofsted to make its decisions.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister not recall that Ofsted now spends more than £400 million per annum on inspections? Frankly, many of the inspections are not helpful, and are carried out by people without the right experience for dealing with the schools they are inspecting. Could he not start to save some of that money by abolishing the post of the academies adviser, who has now gone off to the private sector to a fundamentalist education trust?

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Jim Knight: As my hon. Friend knows, I hate to disagree with him, but I have every confidence in the job that Ofsted is doing. It has an enlarged brief; it is responsible for inspecting a wide range of settings, not just schools. That might explain why the cost of running Ofsted has gone up. Post-inspection surveys of head teachers show that 96 per cent. of schools agree that inspections identified the right issues for improvement, and 83 per cent. agree that the benefits of the inspection outweigh any negative aspects. The outgoing schools commissioner has not, to my knowledge, ever worked for Ofsted; he certainly does not do so at the moment, and it is not proposed that he should go on to do so.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): The Minister just said that he has confidence in what Ofsted is doing, but Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector of schools, has said that improvement of standards in our schools has “stalled”. Does the Minister agree?

Jim Knight: I certainly do not agree that standards have stalled in our schools. We will have to wait and see what the chief inspector of schools says in her annual report later this week about whether improvement in our schools has stalled.

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