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ContactPoint Database

6. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What progress has been made on the roll-out of the ContactPoint database; and if he will make a statement. [302052]

The Minister of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): Excellent recent progress has been made on ContactPoint. On 6 November, we announced that ContactPoint was beginning to be rolled out nationally to local authorities and front-line practitioners. We also published a report on the initial phase of the ContactPoint roll-out entitled "Lessons Learned from the Early Adopter Phase", which shows how ContactPoint is already making a positive difference daily to the practitioners who use it.

Tom Brake: Can the Minister explain why it is considered necessary to shield just some of the children's records on the ContactPoint database, when all children on the database could be at risk from some of the 400,000 people who can access it?

Kevin Brennan: There will be no special treatment for particular groups. Any decisions based on shielding would be based on decisions about the welfare of the individual child. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that that is absolutely the right basis on which to take any such decisions.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): If ContactPoint is going to make such a significant contribution to child protection, can the Minister say why the Government think it necessary that parents attending their children's school carol concert should be officially vetted, that parents who teach their children at home must undergo criminal record checks and that even teenagers taking part in the Government's compulsory community service scheme will face criminal checks? Is this not just getting barmy?

Kevin Brennan: Everything that the hon. Gentleman has just said is absolute rubbish. It constitutes the usual scaremongering and hyperbole from the Opposition, in an attempt to get headlines in the tabloid press, and it is not true. If he had bothered to ask a question about ContactPoint, I could have reminded him that it has the support of our national partners-including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Barnardo's, Action for Children, Kids, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, and the Children's Society-and he ought to be supporting it.


7. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What steps he has considered to assist teachers and parents to reduce the incidence of cyberbullying of children; and if he will make a statement. [302053]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): The Department has given legal powers to schools staff to regulate the conduct of pupils inside and outside school premises, including by dealing with bullying on school buses or addressing cyberbullying that originates at home. In addition, DCSF has provided schools with guidance on how to prevent and tackle cyberbullying and provided parents with advice, through our sponsored Parentline Plus service, on how to spot all forms of bullying and the steps to take to stop it.

John Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. I also congratulate her on the work done so far, but there is so much more that needs to be done. Cyberbullying is on the up. Schools have to be vigilant at all times, as do parents. However, a lot of my constituents feel that parents do not get enough advice to understand exactly what cyberbullying is.

Ms Johnson: My hon. Friend has raised the issue before and takes a keen interest in it. The Government are committed to ensuring that parents are as fully informed as possible about cyberbullying-and, of course, about all forms of bullying-and what they can do to stop it. Let me refer my hon. Friend to the national anti-bullying week, which took place in November. Thirty-thousand young people signed up to the "Laugh at it, and you're part of it" campaign, which was designed to draw attention to cyberbullying.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The Minister will know that each school has an acceptable use policy, and one way to help teachers might be to extend those powers beyond the boundaries of the playground. Will the Minister look at this issue and see whether cyberbullies could be dealt with when they return from home to school if there has been cyberbullying between two pupils at the same school?

Ms Johnson: Schools, and head teachers in particular, already have a duty to deal with bullying, and schools have the power to deal with bullying, including cyberbullying, that takes place elsewhere-not just on the school premises.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): May I tell my hon. Friend about the good work being done by Childnet in partnership with organisations as far away as Net-Aman in Egypt in bringing children together to discuss among themselves how to create better working practices for children and more children-focused systems on the net? This is the right way to proceed-to engage children in the decision-making process.

Ms Johnson: I know my hon. Friend has a great deal of experience in this area of information technology. I absolutely agree, and the Government are committed to ensuring that children and young people know and fully understand what they are doing when they go on the internet and how to protect themselves.

National Curriculum

8. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What plans he has for the future of national curriculum testing; and if he will make a statement. [302054]

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The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Following the report of the expert group on assessment on the future of national curriculum tests, which advised that objective tests at the end of key stage 2 were educationally beneficial and vital for public accountability, I have recently approved the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency's award of the main contract for delivering the 2010 tests to Edexcel.

Mr. Swayne: The National Association of Head Teachers says that the results-up to a quarter of them-are inaccurate to the extent of being one whole level out. If that is incorrect, will the Secretary of State tell us how he knows it is incorrect?

Ed Balls: As the hon. Gentleman may or may not know, we have established an independent regulator, Ofqual, which oversees and regulates the marking process and also deals with the appeals process. Because of the difficulties of the tests, there were more appeals than in the year before last and last year, but there is no evidence that the quality of the marking has deteriorated. I would be happy to set out more detail for the hon. Gentleman if he would like.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I have the impression that the reason why Slough's key stage 2 results this year were not as good as they were in other parts of the education system is that we are still a small town that has the 11-plus. Will the Secretary of State please look at areas that retain the 11-plus and see whether the results at key stage 2 are different from those that would normally be expected?

Ed Balls: I would be happy to look at that for my hon. Friend. As she will know, the issue of selection is a matter for local authorities to decide, although Labour Members are clear that we do not want to see an increase in the number of grammar schools-a pledge that Conservative Members continually refuse to make. We have looked at the selective authorities of Gloucestershire and Kent to see whether there are particular issues to do with the interaction of selection and the national challenge programme, but on the issue of key stage 2 tests, we need to look more carefully at the details. I cannot give my hon. Friend an answer today, but I can definitely tell her that we will not be having any more grammar schools.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware that a third of those who fail to achieve the expected level in the three R's in the key stage 2 tests are children who qualify for free school meals. Does he therefore support a policy of replacing the key stage 1 standard assessment test with a simple screening test at the end of the second year of primary school to ensure that every child knows how to sound out words and is able to read a list of basic words? Is that not the best way of closing the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots in our schools and in our society?

Ed Balls: That question goes to the heart of the debate-and to the heart of the confusion among the Opposition-on education policy. The fact is that there are 100,000 more young people now making the grade at age 11 compared with 10 years ago, but it is not
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possible consistently to say that every child should do a test in key stage 1 and learn phonics while at the same time having it as a policy that all schools should opt out of the national curriculum by becoming primary school academies. The hon. Gentleman's desire for phonics teaching is completely undermined by the policy of his hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) to abolish the requirement for phonics in the national curriculum. That would be the wrong thing to do-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have been very generous to the Secretary of State today in allowing him to develop his arguments, but he will know that he must focus his answers on the policy of the Government rather than that of the Opposition.

Ed Balls rose-

Mr. Speaker: No, the right hon. Gentleman has already done extremely well.

Educational Psychologists

9. Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): What is his Department's policy on the use of educational psychologists in schools. [302055]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): Educational psychologists have a statutory function in respect of assessments required for statements for children with special educational needs. However, the Department believes that they can play a much wider role in helping schools with early intervention, identifying needs early, and helping to advise on appropriate support. More broadly, they can help to train school staff in particular subjects to enhance their skills and knowledge in respect of SEN. We continue to value and support the important work that they do.

Rob Marris: My hon. Friend will be aware that this year local authorities' voluntary contributions have raised only about half the funds required for the training of educational psychologists, and the picture is likely to be even worse next year. In the context of the statutory functions to which my hon. Friend has referred, will she look again at the possibility of direct Government funding for the training of educational psychologists, so that they need not continue to rely on voluntary contributions which are not forthcoming?

Ms Johnson: I wrote to all local authorities on 16 November, after the meeting that we held with the Association of Educational Psychologists, urging them to contribute to the funding. It is also worth mentioning that the Children's Workforce Development Council is developing a long-term and sustainable employer-led funding and training scheme. I shall meet the new general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, Kate Fallon, very shortly to discuss the matter again.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Concerns are still being raised about the impact of the new qualifications route and its funding. Is the Minister continuing to monitor not only the current position but
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the future supply of educational psychologists, particularly in the light of the role that they must play in regard to early identification and early intervention?

Ms Johnson: I am continuing to monitor that very carefully. As I have said, we had a meeting in October, and I wrote to local authorities earlier this month. I plan to have another meeting in December to discuss the position. Further research is being conducted on work force planning for educational psychologists in the years ahead.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Schools have waiting lists of pupils wishing to see child psychologists. Meanwhile, education authorities are cutting the number of psychologists to save money. How can the Minister ensure that the number does not continue to be reduced at a time when we should be trying to increase it in each education authority?

Ms Johnson: If Members wish to cite individual authorities that are experiencing that problem, I shall be happy to look into it further. We need to engage in long-term work force planning, but I should stress that educational psychologists are the employees of local authorities, and that local authorities are responsible for ensuring that their number is sufficient.

School Playing Fields

10. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): How many school playing fields have been sold for development in the last five years. [302056]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): In the last five years, 51 applications involving the sale of school playing fields have been approved.

Bob Spink: School playing fields at Castle View on Canvey Island, Scrub Lane in Hadleigh and Jotmans in Benfleet in my constituency have recently been given up for development in one form or another. What on earth is going on in Essex county council education authority? Will the Government step in to enforce their excellent policy of protecting our school playing fields, which are so valuable?

Mr. Coaker: I do not know what is going on in Essex county council, but I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss it and see what we can do together.

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point about safeguarding school playing fields. He will know that in 1998 we changed the law to ensure that any sale of school playing fields had to be submitted to the Secretary of State for his agreement. Very few such applications have been made, because the criterion is very tight. The hon. Gentleman will also know that before 1998 considerably more school playing fields were sold, and that the receipts from the sale of any playing field-whether by an open school or a closed school-must be put back into either education or education-related leisure facilities.

Safeguarding Children (Ofsted Inspections)

12. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): What recent representations he has received on the effects on schools of Ofsted's role in inspecting the safeguarding of children. [302058]

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The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Dawn Primarolo): Safeguarding is not a new aspect of school inspection, but it has been given increased focus in the new inspection framework. Ofsted has issued detailed guidance on how safeguarding should be assessed during its school inspections.

Dr. Harris: I am grateful to the Minister for her answer. Does she agree that what is important is safeguarding children, not sticking to rigid rules, and that if, for example, Ofsted finds that there is a problem with the single central record but that is put right, afterwards there is no need for the school in question to be judged inadequate in that regard, because that undermines the morale of the whole school for no good reason?

Dawn Primarolo: As the hon. Gentleman knows, schools are not marked down solely on account of minor administrative issues; Ofsted has assured us that that is the case. The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of a failure being identified during an inspection that is corrected subsequently. If it is corrected before the inspection is completed, that can be added to the assessment, but as he knows, the inspection is a snapshot and there is a gap between its taking place and the publication of the findings, so in some circumstances even though schools may have corrected matters, that snapshot cannot be changed. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about a particular issue, I will be more than happy either to speak to him about it, or to receive details in writing and look into it further.

Muslim Girls Boarding Schools

13. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): How many Muslim girls boarding schools there are with more than 4,000 pupils in England. [302059]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): To date, there are no Muslim girls boarding schools with more than 4,000 pupils established in England.

Mr. Prentice: My friend will know that there is a proposal on the drawing board for a huge 5,000-place independent boarding school for Muslim girls in my Pendle constituency. Does she believe, as I do, that the existence of very large, single-faith, single-gender schools can work against community cohesion, and that we should tread very carefully indeed?

Ms Johnson: My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the largest independent boys' boarding school at present is Eton, with 1,311 pupils, and the largest girls' boarding school is Cheltenham Ladies' College, with 640 pupils. The figure of 5,000 for the number of pupils at a boarding school would, therefore, be unprecedented, and we would obviously have to give very careful consideration to a proposal for a school of that size.

Academic Standards (Primary Schools)

14. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What steps he plans to take to raise academic standards in primary schools. [302060]

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