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I absolutely refute that. If the hon. Gentleman had looked in his inbox-I accept that 29 July was quite recent-he would have seen the letter from me to all MPs that makes it absolutely clear that when an MP is
visiting one of their local schools for prize-giving or whatever else, there is no requirement for them to register. Only if he were teaching a class regularly would he have to register-I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will be, so he will be fine.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will have been pleased to hear that Volunteering England has welcomed the introduction of the vetting and barring scheme as a simplification and a sensible step forward. On the question of frequency and intensity, will he answer a question from my local town-twinning organisation? When a group of foreign children is in the town for a week or 10 days at a time, will that cross the intensity threshold for registration? Indeed, are foreign children covered by the scheme at all?
Ed Balls: If foreign children are coming to our country to stay with a local family on a school exchange or as part of twinning, yes, the family that is hosting them will be required to be on the ISA list, so that parents in a foreign country can know whether there is any past child-related offence. We have thought about this very carefully and only by doing it in such a way could we ensure that children from our country and those from abroad are safe.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Did the Secretary of State see the admirable article by the inspector in charge of the Soham case in which the inspector ridiculed the excessive bureaucracy, which will mean that many decent, innocent people have to be vetted in this stupid way?
Ed Balls: I am very sorry indeed that the hon. Gentleman, who is normally a wise counsel, has used such intemperate and ill-informed language on this issue. The fact is that the person who made the recommendations on the Soham case is entirely behind the changes that we are making. The definition of "frequent or intensive" is difficult, and we need to make sure that we are clear in the way in which we apply it. There has been much misinformation on this issue, suggesting that a parent taking their children to school for a neighbour, or someone helping out once in a while in school is required to register. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts and the reality, and not the nonsense in some briefing papers, before he asks questions in the House.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): We have recently extended until 2012 the contract for the independent evaluation by PricewaterhouseCoopers of the impact of Building Schools for the Future investment on pupil achievement. As more and more BSF schools open, this work will include evaluation of design quality. We will continue to publish annual reports from PricewaterhouseCoopers and work with Partnerships for Schools to ensure that lessons learned from this evaluation inform the BSF programme, and design guidance for schools.
Linda Gilroy: It was a pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend to Plymouth in the summer, particularly to Stoke Damerel school, where he saw for himself the best results that it has ever had and, alongside the efforts of students, teachers and parents, the contribution made by investment in the buildings. May I ask him when he expects to announce the next round of Building Schools for the Future, in the hope that Plymouth will feature?
Mr. Coaker: Stoke Damerel community college is an excellent school, and it was excellent to see its design and the improvements that have been made. We hope to announce the next round of Building Schools for the Future in a few weeks, including the six authorities over and above the initial six that we announced a couple of months ago. Part of the purpose of my visit to Plymouth was to look at its readiness to join the roll-out of the programme.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): We estimate that 38 per cent. of current head teachers will have retired by 2015. Dealing with the loss of their skills and experience will be a challenge and an opportunity. We have invested £30 million through the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services succession planning strategy to ensure that this demographic challenge is managed effectively. The national college continues to work closely with schools, local authorities and faith bodies around the country to find, develop and keep excellent head teachers.
Greg Mulholland: The Minister has used the word "challenge". Other people describe the number of head teachers retiring as a crisis. In that regard, may I ask the Minister why on earth the Government have announced at this stage the scrapping of 3,000 head teachers and leadership posts in schools? Will that not make the situation much worse?
Mr. Coaker: I do not accept that there is a crisis in head teacher recruitment. There is a challenge, and that is one reason why we have given the national college £30 million to help develop succession planning, which is necessary. On the issue of axing 3,000 head teacher posts, that is not a figure that the Department has used. It is right as we develop schools for the future that we look at how schools are organised and managed, and federations are one way forward. Certainly, we have never used the figure of 3,000 head teacher posts to be axed.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): There is an increasing number of cases in which schools advertise for heads, but the number of people who apply is small and the quality of the applicants is indifferent. To what does the Minister attribute that, and what does he intend to do about it, because far too many schools have acting heads for far too long a period?
Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend makes an important point, but the latest figures show that vacancies remain stable at below 1 per cent. As he has said, no school is without a head, but there are schools with acting heads. I have explained what we are doing about it: we are working with the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services to seek to identify at an early stage in their career those people who might want to be head teachers and work with them to achieve their goal. We have also tried to ensure that we do as much as we can to support head teachers in post in schools in their administrative and financial tasks. One reason why we have increased the number of administrative assistants and, indeed, of school business managers is so that head teachers can concentrate on their major task, which is teaching and learning in the school.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): As of January 2009, no primary schools in either Chelmsford or West Chelmsford breached the infant class size duty by having classes of 31 or more pupils in reception or key stage 1. One class misreported its school census return, but this did not result in a breach of the duty. There were 11 primary schools in West Chelmsford and 21 in Chelmsford with classes of 31 or more pupils at key stage 2. It is for local authorities to consider how their level of provision best meets the needs of local parents and children and to consider any necessary improvements.
Mr. Burns: What help will be given to schools which, as a result of financial difficulties and possibly going into deficit, are planning to make teachers redundant so as to cut costs, which could adversely affect the size of classes?
Ms Johnson: The hon. Gentleman knows that the target of class sizes of less than 30 in years 1 and 2 and in reception is a firm target that must be complied with. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take action if schools do not do that. It is interesting to note that in 1997, 29 per cent. of pupils were in classes of more than 30, which compares with just 2 per cent. today.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls):
May I report on two issues? Although this was not debated in Parliament during the passage of the Childcare Act 2006, I have today written to Christine Gilbert, and I am copying the letter to the House of Commons Library, to make it clear that reciprocal child care arrangements between parents where there is no payment involved should not be a matter for
regulation, and I have agreed today with Ofsted that with immediate effect this will be beyond the scope of its child care inspections. We will make this crystal clear by changing the regulations in the coming period.
I should also report to the House that in the early summer I pledged £655 million to ensure a sixth-form or apprenticeship place for every school leaver this September. That would be 55,000 more places. I have to report that the demand for these places has again outstripped our expectations. As a result, I am making a further £11 million available now to pay for a further 2,300 places for school leavers this September. That will be a total of 57,300 places, which will be guaranteed by the Government and would be cut by the Conservatives.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: During the recess, I visited a middle and high school in the United States of America. Displayed outside the school and in every classroom and room in that school was a Union flag-that is, a flag of the United States of America. Should we not follow that example, and would not pride in our country thus be part of education?
Ed Balls: I have visited the United States a number of times. I know that there are some parts of the southern states where different flags are flown, but I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the stars and stripes, rather than the Union flag. It is important that we fly the British flag, which should be flown on town halls throughout the country-we fly it on our Department. It is a matter for individual schools to decide what flag they fly. We have never mandated that as a matter of law, and I do not think that that would be the right approach to take. It is for individual schools to decide.
T8.  Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Chesterfield college in North-East Derbyshire has seen an increase of 10 per cent. in enrolment figures as a direct result of the recession. What extra financial support is the Department giving FE colleges around the country-Chesterfield college is not the only one-to make sure that young people throughout the country get access to the skills and training that they need to see them through the recession?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Mr. Iain Wright): As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we have provided an unprecedented sum of money-an extra £655 million-to meet that September guarantee. He has just announced an additional £11 million to help another 2,500 learners, because we are absolutely committed, as I know my hon. Friend is in North-East Derbyshire, to ensuring that no one is left behind with this recession. We need the skills to allow our country and our economy to prepare for the upturn and to be prosperous in the future.
T2.  Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD):
The Secretary of State will be aware that in some London boroughs there are not enough primary school places. When can we expect an announcement confirming that a mechanism has been developed and
agreed to ensure that local authorities, such as Sutton in my constituency, are adequately supported through the basic need safety-valve funding, enabling those desperately needed school places to be built?
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): May I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I said in an earlier answer, that we know that there is a problem for some authorities in different parts of the country, including London? We have received representations from authorities, following our announcement that we would make available to local authorities throughout the country £200 million to deal with the problem, and we expect an announcement to be made shortly.
T9.  Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): The Prime Minister stated at the Labour party conference that there would be more for schools, not less. Can we ensure that, after the age of 16, most children in Chorley go to the exceptional Runshaw college? However, the colleges gets less funding than a school with a sixth form, so will Ministers ensure that there is more money for those colleges that provide such education?
Mr. Iain Wright: That is an important point, and I would welcome a meeting with my hon. Friend to ensure that end. He will be aware, however, that funding has increased enormously over the past 12 years. We are committed to reducing the gap between school sixth forms and comparative further education colleges. We want to do that, and we have had success and made inroads into the issue, but we are looking at it still further.
T3.  Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): What can we do to ensure that special schools that are opened for the most difficult and sometimes rather nasty kids in society are opened in proper and suitable locations, not unsuitable locations, and that, for instance, the kids from throughout Essex who are taken to the school that Essex county council has just opened on Canvey Island, go to the school, not to the town centre, where they are causing mayhem?
Ed Balls: I was with the Schools Minister at Huntercombe young offenders institution only last week, and that visit convinced me that we need to do more to intervene early to ensure that children with learning difficulties or young people with behavioural problems get the extra support that they need. That is integral to the way in which we plan our secondary school provision and take forward Building Schools for the Future, and our behaviour partnerships will ensure that such provision is at the centre of people's thinking, rather than on the periphery or excluded, as it sometimes has been.
Mr. Coaker: No, not all new schools are fitted with sprinklers, but the expectation is that unless they are low-risk schools, they will be fitted with sprinklers. We passed regulations on the matter, and, clearly, when new schools are built, fire safety is of the utmost importance.
T4.  Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Why did only 189 pupils who receive free school meals achieve three A-level passes at A grade last year? Is that not a total indictment of the Government's education policies, and does it not show the betrayal of the poorest families in our society?
Ed Balls: I am proud of the fact that the local authorities with the greatest concentration of the most deprived pupils have seen the fastest rise in results. I am proud also of the fact that schools with more than 50 per cent. of pupils receiving free school meals have achieved twice the rate of improvement of schools with less than 5 per cent. of such pupils. That has all happened because of the progress made by this Government. I am concerned, however, that in the most deprived schools, the most deprived pupils still do not make the progress that we would like. The only way to do so is through the intensive investment and one-to-one tuition that we are putting in to back those pupils-funding that would be cut in the schools cuts proposed by the Opposition.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Ministers will be aware of the very high percentage of young offenders who suffer speech and language difficulties, so may I welcome the money that the Department has allocated to address the issue? Will Ministers assure me that the screening process that is being devised to identify such young pupils will incorporate the advice of adequate professionals, such as speech and language therapists?
Ed Balls: The answer is that it absolutely will. A few weeks ago, I was in Knowsley with my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), and we saw a really good example of alternative provision. We saw schools making sure that young people got extra help and support before they got into trouble through crime. Just now, I referred to my visit to Huntercombe young offenders institution; two thirds of young people in custody have special needs and they often have speech and communication difficulties. The only way to deal with the issue is to intervene early, at primary school, before the young people get on the wrong track and get into trouble with crime. We need to make sure that they get the help, but it is essential that they get that help early.
T5.  David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Following the tragic and well publicised deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick in my constituency, has the Secretary of State had any thoughts about how to improve the protection of vulnerable children? Has he had any liaison with other Government Departments to see whether better guidelines can be issued, to make sure that such problems do not occur?
Ed Balls: As the Home Secretary made clear, in that case a vulnerable child and her mother were not properly protected. All the agencies failed, which is a matter of huge regret and shame. It is essential in our society that we pull together to make sure that we do not see a repeat of such a horrific incident. We are actively talking about that issue, so that we learn the right lessons from that terrible case.
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