Previous Section Index Home Page

12 Oct 2009 : Column 8

At his party conference, the hon. Gentleman praised Mossbourne. It is clear from the Mossbourne prospectus that the head teacher there teaches, and knows that his success depends on the teaching of vocational subjects such as dance, drama and arts, which the hon. Gentleman says should be downgraded to become second-class subjects. He needs to go back to the drawing board when it comes to his own policies.

Michael Gove: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for refusing to answer the question and exposing the threadbare nature of his own position. I am also grateful to him for reminding the House that the majority of local authorities are now under Conservative control. That is a welcome reminder of how poorly Labour authorities have done in improving education. I am also grateful to the Secretary of State for highlighting-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am not interested in hearing about what the shadow Secretary of State is grateful for; I am interested in hearing a question-very soon, I hope.

Michael Gove: I am also grateful for your skilled chairing of our debates, Mr. Speaker.

The Secretary of State's right hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) has said-like us-that academies should become the norm in the state sector. Does the Secretary of State agree with that?

Ed Balls: I think that where we are raising standards in under-performing schools, academies are doing a tremendous job. They are doing so because of the partnership that we have with Labour and Conservative local government. That is opposed by the Conservative party, which believes that only deregulation is making the difference, and does not recognise the importance of rising investment to delivering the academies programme.

I read an article in The Times today which says that

That was written by the hon. Gentleman, and I think that his critical systems have been shut down today.

Land Sales (Schools)

4. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the amount of land sold by schools for non-educational purposes in the latest period for which figures are available. [292195]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The information requested is not held centrally. Schools and local authorities do not need the Secretary of State's consent to sell school buildings or land that is not school playing field. However, all proceeds from the disposal of school playing fields have been reinvested in school sports or educational facilities since legislation was introduced, under section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act, in 1998.

Keith Vaz: I wrote to the Minister about two excellent schools in my constituency which share a site in Evington, in Leicester: St. Paul's Catholic school and Leicester
12 Oct 2009 : Column 9
grammar school. Leicester grammar school wants to vacate its land and sell it to St. Paul's school, which wants to buy it but has not sufficient resources. As the Minister must pass Leicester to reach his constituency in Gedling, may I ask him to drop by one Friday and try to resolve the matter? I think that with good will and the support of the Government, both schools can get what they want.

Mr. Coaker: I would be keen and very happy to drop into my right hon. Friend's constituency in Leicester to see for myself the problem he has outlined. I know that he has been trying for some months to resolve this particular issue. He will know that Leicester grammar school is an independent school, and the Secretary of State and I have no authority to talk to it in respect of the disposal of the land to which he refers, but the local authority does of course have a duty to ensure that St. Paul's school has sufficient land available to it for school playing fields, and it is on that basis that I hope we can find a way forward.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Of the many thousands of playing fields being sold off by the Labour Government or Labour local authorities in direct contravention of repeated manifesto commitments, some 342 have been sold because apparently they were the wrong shape. Would the Minister care to tell the House what playing fields that were the correct shape before are now of such a strange shape as to have to be sold off forcibly?

Mr. Coaker: I do not quite know what the hon. Gentleman means. Before 1998 there were no controls over the sale of school playing fields. It was the introduction of legislation that required any local authority that wished to sell school playing fields to receive consent from the Secretary of State. Actually, the correct figure is that there have been 203 approved playing field sales since 1997, and I say to the hon. Gentleman that significant numbers of the school playing fields that have been sold have resulted in schools being able to reinvest in their school playing facilities, as I saw for myself at the Lincoln Christ's Hospital school where a bit of waste ground designated as a school playing field was able to be sold and the sum reinvested into changing rooms, better facilities and improved playing fields for that school. That will have been the case up and down the country, and instead of taking a dogmatic view the hon. Gentleman ought to have a look and see what is actually happening.


6. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What plans the Government have for the future of statementing for children with special educational needs. [292197]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): We have no plans to end the special educational needs statementing system. I know how interested Members are in SEN, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) for initiating the Special Educational Needs (Information) Act 2008. We launched the first annual publication following that
12 Oct 2009 : Column 10
Act last week. We have sent a copy to Brian Lamb so that he can reflect its findings in his report on parental confidence in the SEN system.

Mr. Harper: I am grateful to the Minister, but I did not actually ask whether she was going to end statementing; I simply asked what the Government's plans were, given that the Secretary of State had indicated in his response to the media coverage of Brian Lamb's inquiry that they were going to look at taking statementing out of the hands of local authorities because a lot of parents think there is a conflict of interests there. I simply wanted the Minister to set out what specific steps the Government are going to take to put the Secretary of State's pledge into action, and I ask her to do so now.

Ms Johnson: Perhaps I should reiterate that we have no plans to end the current statementing system, but we do want all parents to have confidence in the SEN system, and the hon. Gentleman will know that Brian Lamb is currently conducting a report on parental confidence, which will be published later this month. Also, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made an announcement at the end of September on pilots in certain parts of the country to test how assessment could be made more independent of local authorities, and we will of course look at the outcomes from those pilots.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): During the recess, I visited a number of schools in my constituency and it became clear that there are still problems with delays in statementing. Will my hon. Friend use her good offices to ensure that local authorities undertake statementing as quickly as possible and provide the proper resources to ensure that those children with special needs get the support they require?

Ms Johnson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is absolutely right to say that there are time frames that have to be complied with, and of course we want to ensure that where children need statements those statements are obtained as quickly as possible.

Home Schooling

7. Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): When he expects to issue recommendations for home schooling in Gloucestershire arising from the report of the Badman review; and if he will make a statement. [292198]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): We announced our response to the Badman report on home education on Friday 9 October. Home education is an established part of the British education system. The arguments in the report for giving home-educated families better access to public services are strong, particularly when a child or young person has special educational needs, and our response sets out the practical steps we will take to implement these and the other recommendations in the review.

Mr. Drew: I thank my hon. Friend for what she has to say, but does she accept that there is at least some misgiving about the nature of Badman's recommendations
12 Oct 2009 : Column 11
and that there is a need for proper consultation, particularly in my county, where quite a large number of people have chosen to home educate their children? Will she ensure that her door is open to those of us who want to talk to her about some of those problems, so that we do not have an unnecessary spat over what could be an important way forward?

Ms Johnson: I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue. May I reassure him that the consultation on the registration and monitoring recommendations remains open until 19 October? It has been open since June; nearly 1,000 responses have been received, and clearly we would welcome any further such responses.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Given the Government's general acceptance of the Badman review, have they left themselves enough scope to respond to these important representations, particularly in respect of the conditions attached to registration?

Ms Johnson: The hon. Lady will know that, as I have just explained to the House, the consultation will have taken place over a considerable period-from June until 19 October. A further response was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on Friday of last week, which set out further areas for consultation arising out of the Badman recommendations. There has been sufficient time for this consultation, and clearly the Government need to consider the responses-we will do so in the next few weeks.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Minister must be aware of the real worry felt by people who home educate; there is a feeling that this is the beginning of the thin edge of the wedge-I use a cliché-and a move towards the German system of banning home education altogether. Will she give a categorical assurance that that is not the Government's intention?

Ms Johnson: May I just reassure my hon. Friend that this Government's view of home education is one that supports the rights of parents to home educate? However, there is a balance to be struck and the Government need to be sure that children who are being educated at home are receiving a suitable education. I hope very much that the Select Committee that is examining this issue will put forward its own views on the Badman review, and we will certainly be considering all the responses to the consultation.

Standards (Primary Schools)

8. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What steps he is taking to raise educational standards in primary schools. [292199]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): There has been a significant rise in standards in primary schools since 1997. Compared with then, about 98,000 more 11-year-olds are achieving the target level 4 for their age in English and 98,000 are doing so in maths, based on the 2009 provisional results. We set out plans in the schools White Paper for improving all primary schools, and there will be a package of support in 2009-10 that will enable a range of successful programmes to be expanded.

12 Oct 2009 : Column 12

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I note the Minister's reply, but can he tell me why 500,000 children left primary school in the last educational year unable to read? Will that not lead to their not engaging in secondary school and to their being inclined to add to the already high rate of truancy?

Mr. Coaker: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the 500,000 children. Instead of decrying what is happening in primary schools, he would do well to celebrate-I am sure he does this in respect of his own constituency-the real achievements that have taken place. Since 1997, we have seen an increase in the figures for level 4 plus of 17 per cent. in English, 19 per cent. in reading and 17 per cent. in maths. Are we satisfied with that? No, we are not. Do we want more children to have the correct standard of reading, writing and arithmetic? Of course we do, so we have a series of measures and programmes in place to achieve that.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that to achieve a high standard of learning children need to have a place to be educated? Will he tell me what he is going to do about the fact that some 100 children of primary age in my constituency do not currently have a place in a primary school?

Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend will know, because I have met her and Slough's director of children's services to discuss the particular issue in Slough, that we are seeing what we can do to resolve it. Primary school places are an issue in Slough and in some other authority areas across the country, which is why we recently announced a £200 million programme to see how we can address it. We are about to announce, in the not-too-distant future, the allocation of that money, in order to try to address some of the very real problems in Slough and in other local authority areas.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): The Minister will know from the written answer that he gave me in July that fewer than half of 11-year-olds in the poorest decile in the index of multiple deprivation achieved the basic standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with three quarters who achieved that in the top 10 per cent. Frankly, whether it is a quarter or a half of 11-year-olds who are failing to grasp the basics, the Government's record of achievement is dreadful. Is he not ashamed of the enormous achievement gap between those at the bottom of the index of deprivation and those at the top in the very skills-reading, writing and maths-that every child needs if they are to escape a life of poverty?

Mr. Coaker: I am not ashamed of what the Government have achieved with primary schools. I am proud of what the Government have tried to do and are doing to tackle this issue, which we all recognise. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's points. Only recently, we received the results of the pilot of Every Child Counts from Edge Hill university, which showed that one-to-one tuition and small groups made a significant difference with some of the most difficult young people in terms of the educational challenge that they present, the special educational needs that they have and the difficult family backgrounds that many of them come from. We are expanding and developing these programmes-not
12 Oct 2009 : Column 13
only Every Child Counts, but Every Child a Reader-as the hon. Gentleman will know. That one-to-one tuition, which has been expanded through the whole primary school age group and will now be rolled out into year 7 in secondary schools over the next year, will make a significant difference. If we put that together with some of the other measures that we are taking to deal with the social issues around those schools, we will see a real improvement.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): I remind the Minister that in 1997 only six out of 10 kids in school aged 11 reached the required standard in reading, writing and maths. That figure has now gone up to eight in 10, due no doubt to the doubled investment that this Labour Government have put into kids in schools. Will the Minister defend his budget in the current economic climate and do everything that he can to increase it to give kids from working-class areas the chances that they deserve?

Mr. Coaker: One of the points that I was trying to make in answer to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) is that there have been real improvements in primary schools across the country, including in some of the most socially disadvantaged communities. The difference between our stance and that of the Opposition is that they say that because there are still things to be done-because young children in our schools still do not reach the required standard-everything in primary education is wrong, that the teachers are not teaching properly and that progress is not being made. Our approach is to say exactly what my hon. Friend has just said: there has been progress, but there is still more to be done and the programmes that we have laid out, as well as the record levels of investment, will tackle some of them and will lead to a continuing rise in attainment in our schools.

Independent Safeguarding Authority

9. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of arrangements for implementation of the Independent Safeguarding Authority's vetting and barring scheme; and if he will make a statement. [292200]

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Today sees the launch of the first stage of the new vetting and barring scheme. I can tell the House that arrangements are on track for the implementation of ISA registration by individuals from July next year. In advance of that, I have asked Sir Roger Singleton to look again at the definition of "frequent and intensive contact" with children that will trigger the requirement for individuals to register. He will report to me in December.

David Tredinnick: Will the Secretary of State confirm that before a Member of Parliament visits a school in his constituency for prize-giving he will have to be vetted?

Next Section Index Home Page