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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): Significant improvements have been made in primary school standards over the past 12 years, and this year's results are 17 per cent. higher than those of 1997. However, we recognise that there is still more to do to ensure that all children receive a world-class education. Our recent White Paper signalled a new approach to primary school improvement, which will include a comprehensive package of support for schools. We will be announcing detailed plans on that later in the week.

Ann Winterton: In seeking to raise primary school standards further, will the Minister look specifically at the teaching of British history, beginning right at the beginning of the curriculum and going through to secondary education, because nothing dismays me more than discovering while taking school parties around the Palace of Westminster that great chunks of British life and history are not known by them. Will the Minister take a serious look at this matter?

Ms Johnson: The hon. Lady will be reassured to know that British history is in the primary curriculum. We have just gone through a major consultation on the Rose proposals in respect of changes to the primary curriculum and we will bring forward legislation on that shortly.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): While improvements in academic standards are, of course, always welcome, like the rest of us my hon. Friend realises that catchment area plays a crucial role in respect of what young people can achieve. When are we going to start putting more emphasis on the added value that schools bring to young people?

Ms Johnson: Of course we must recognise that added value is very important, but we should celebrate the fact that our young people are leaving primary school better able to read, write and do their sums. Whereas in 1997 only 43 per cent. of our children could read, write and do their maths, the figure is now 61 per cent., and that is very good. Obviously, we need to improve further, but we have made vast improvements in the past 12 years.

Military History

15. Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): If he will encourage the teaching of Britain's military history in schools. [302061]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): History is compulsory in schools up to the end of key stage 3. The national curriculum for history requires pupils to be taught a substantial amount of British history; it covers the mediaeval, early modern, industrial and 20th( )century periods, and that includes studying the causes and consequences of various conflicts, including the two world wars, the Holocaust and other genocides.

Mr. Howarth: As we welcome 19 Light Brigade, representing the prowess of our military at this time, back from Afghanistan to the Palace of Westminster today, may I invite the Minister to be even more robust in ensuring that our young people are reminded of
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Britain's glorious military past and of our great battles such as Agincourt, Trafalgar and the battle of Britain? Will he ensure that these traditional subjects are on the agenda, rather than the sort of woolly stuff that Mrs. McCabe, that splendid headmistress, has been suggesting the Government are threatening our children with?

Mr. Coaker: I know that the hon. Gentleman spends considerable time raising these issues on a number of occasions, not only because of the passion that he feels about the subject, but because of his constituency interest. Given what is happening at the moment, it is obviously important that we reflect on what is taught in our schools to ensure that our young people grow up with the values that we want for them. He will know, because he will have looked into this, that, as the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Ms Johnson), has just said, British history is a part, and will form a part, of the primary school curriculum. If he were to read the content for the key stage 3 curriculum, he would see that many of the things that he has just mentioned are part of it-I am sure that he would welcome that.

School Refurbishment (Plymouth)

16. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): What plans his Department has for the rebuilding and refurbishment of secondary schools in Plymouth. [302062]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I am pleased to inform the House that Plymouth is one of 12 projects that will be joining the Building Schools for the Future programme today. It is for Plymouth to determine the pattern of school builds in consultation with the Department, Partnerships for Schools and the local community.

Linda Gilroy: I warmly welcome the go-ahead that has been given to £78 million of investment in our schools. Could my hon. Friend tell me what impact he hopes it will have on raising standards at schools such as Stoke Damerel community college, which he visited recently, and Lipson community college, which the Secretary of State has visited within the past year?

Mr. Coaker: First, I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) on the work they did to campaign for Plymouth to be part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. Schools buildings are important, but to get BSF money authorities have to demonstrate that the new buildings are linked to school improvement and a strategy for change; clearly, standards are an essential part of any school building programme. When I went to Plymouth, I saw that one of the reasons why Plymouth has been successful with its bid is that it has clearly identified that the new school buildings will be a means by which it can continue to improve on the already excellent standards in its area.

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Head Teachers (Retirement)

17. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What proportion of head teachers he expects to retire in the next five years. [302063]

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 not only a challenge, but 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.

Simon Hughes: Although the head teacher recruitment crisis may have eased slightly, Professor John Howson, who is widely respected as the best analyst of these issues, says that the crisis in recruiting heads is continuing. The Government have had 12 and a half years in office, so why is that the case and what do they propose to do in the next six months to make the prospect better?

Mr. Coaker: I said to the hon. Gentleman that the national college has been working exceptionally hard to develop succession planning. It has been out looking to identify people who might well be the heads of the future. The hon. Gentleman will know-perhaps he saw some of the reports over the weekend-that the national college said that there were more teachers now than before who were aspiring to be the head teachers of the future. One of the ways that we can get more head teachers is to keep reminding ourselves and everyone of the excellent job that our head teachers do, of the need for proper leadership in our schools and of the way in which, if we get that effective leadership, we can turn around any sort of school. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would join me in saying that it is an excellent profession. May I take this opportunity to congratulate our head teachers on the work that they do?


18. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve standards of discipline in schools; and if he will make a statement. [302064]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): We have made a commitment that all schools will have good behaviour, strong discipline, order and safety. To secure this ambition, we have launched a new strategy to enable all schools to achieve good or outstanding behaviour standards. The strategy includes a range of measures to support and challenge schools. It builds on existing work that has resulted in the number of schools with inadequate behaviour being driven down to less than 1 per cent.

Mr. Amess: What the Minister has said is splendid, but the reality of the situation is that more and more of our children are being excluded from school because of behavioural problems and Government targets. What is the Government's strategy for dealing with those children who, in reality, have behavioural problems?

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Mr. Coaker: May I say to the hon. Gentleman that the number of young people being excluded from our schools with permanent exclusions has reduced? One of the most effective ways of dealing with behavioural problems in schools is what many schools do across the country-they have a firm code of conduct that is properly enforced with the support of the parents, alongside proper measures within the school to deal with those young people who cause a problem. One of the most effective ways of doing that, which I would encourage-in fact, I did it when I was a deputy head teacher-was to have internal methods of exclusion that keep young people in school and prevent them from having problems outside school while preventing them from undermining the educational entitlement of the other pupils in the class.

Topical Questions

T1. [302071] Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Some local authorities, particularly in London, have been facing big and unexpected increases in the demand for primary school places. Earlier this year, the Schools Minister and I invited local authorities to bid for £200 million of extra investment to meet that demand. Following extensive discussions with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children's Services, I can tell the House that we have further increased this funding and we are today allocating £300 million to create an additional 15,000 primary places for four and five-year-olds across 34 local authorities.

I can also tell the House that 11 local authorities are joining our Building Schools for the Future programme. They are Brent, Darlington, Devon, Havering, Kingston, Croydon, Norfolk, Plymouth, Sefton, Wakefield and Warrington. Two more, Lancashire and Tameside, have been able to move forward in the programme faster than expected. That adds up to £1 billion-plus of investment to rebuild or refurbish our schools-investment that would be put at risk by the Opposition's proposals to cut £4.5 billion.

Robert Key: I am sure that the House is very grateful for that ministerial statement. If the Secretary of State agrees with me that how well we look after children with severe learning difficulties is a measure of what sort of country we are, will he find out why it was that only last week in Wiltshire the local council forced a family to a tribunal because it did not want to pay for the residential care recommended by all that child's teachers?

Ed Balls: I would say first of all that I think that Members on both sides of the House will be grateful for the £1 billion of extra investment that is going into primary school places and new buildings. I know that in Salisbury that is a little further down the track-the hon. Gentleman will have to hope for a Labour Government to be re-elected if he is going to get the new schools in his constituency. On the particular points that he raises, I am happy to look at the details. It disturbs me greatly if any local authority is ignoring advice when a child with severe learning difficulties needs residential care.
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That should not be happening. These are local decisions, but I am happy to look at the details and see what we can do to help.

T8. [302079] Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): Following the previous Schools Minister's extremely helpful intervention to help save Trentham high school, would the current Schools Minister like to visit my constituency to see for himself the problems associated with the so-called Springfield academy site? At the same time, perhaps he would like to visit Trentham high and my colleagues in other parts of the city to see what is happening in those schools.

Ed Balls: The Schools Minister will be extremely happy to go to Stoke and visit as many schools as my hon. Friend would like on the day allocated for the visits. I am sure the Minister is very much looking forward to it.

T3. [302073] Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Ministers will be aware of the concerns of home educators about the Badman report recommendations. Would the Secretary of State be willing to meet a group of local parents to hear those concerns?

Ed Balls: The Schools Minister has been doing so; we have had a series of meetings. We have responded to some of the concerns and set out the evidence clearly. The legislation will be debated in the House. Although it is important to listen to parents' concerns, we have a balance to strike. We have a responsibility to the children as well, to make sure they are safe and that they are getting a proper education. When the hon. Gentleman looks at the detail, I hope he will be able to join what I hope will be a cross-party consensus that the proposals are good, sound and fair, and that they are to the benefit of children but respond properly to the concerns of some of the parents.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement on BSF and the further massive investment in new school building in Plymouth. When does he expect work to begin on the ground?

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, and I again thank her and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) for their work in putting forward Plymouth's case. We expect the plans between January and March next year, and that building will start soon afterwards.

T4. [302074] Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): On 9 July, on Imagine FM, the Secretary of State said that he would love to visit Ewing school-a special school in south Manchester threatened with closure. Apparently, the Secretary of State is now unable to visit. Is this another broken promise from a broken Labour Government, or is the Secretary of State just too embarrassed to visit a local school rated by Ofsted as good with outstanding features, but threatened with closure by a local Labour council?

Ed Balls: I am very happy to visit any excellent school-special or otherwise-and I am very happy to go to Manchester, Withington to see what is happening on the ground. I have been there once and seen new
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buildings being built, standards rising and great teachers-all delivered by a Labour Government, and I hope at the next election supported by a Labour MP.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): May I tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the Sure Start children's centres he has visited in my constituency are extremely successful? Can he absolutely assure me that they will be allowed to thrive under the next Labour Government?

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Dawn Primarolo): I assure my hon. Friend that the centres will be able to thrive under the next Labour Government. There is a commitment in obligations to local authorities to make that a comprehensive offer to young children. Unlike the Conservatives, we are not proposing to make any cuts at all to the Sure Start budget.

T5. [302075] Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The failure of the Learning and Skills Council capital funding project for colleges has been well documented. I am particularly concerned about its effect on Havering sixth-form college, which invested £3.4 million of its own money, including £1 million that had to be borrowed, on enabling works. That has had a serious effect on the college's cash-flow stability. In a meeting with the former Minister, now the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), and the college principal, Mr. Paul Wakeling, I understood-

Mr. Speaker: Order. This is becoming an essay. I gently remind the hon. Lady that topical questions must be brief. I think we have the gist of it.

Ed Balls: Very briefly, I expected the hon. Lady to say what good news it was that £42 million had come through for Havering's Building Schools for the Future, but there was no mention of it-maybe she knows what cuts are on the agenda for those schools. As for school college places, we are funding 55,000 more places. More places will be coming through for the hon. Lady and her college, which would not be delivered by the cuts that the shadow Secretary of State is proposing- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I just say to the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) that I hope Members accept that there is a particular responsibility at questions to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families for hon. and right hon. Members to set a good example.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): As we fast approach the Christmas holidays, a number of secondary school age children in my constituency are still without a school place. I am concerned about the provision that is being made for children who are without a school place for so long, so will my right hon. Friend arrange for someone in the Department to meet me to tell me exactly what the duties of the local education authority are to provide an adequate education for people awaiting a school place?

Ed Balls: I understand those very serious concerns, and we will arrange a meeting as soon as possible to hear them and see where the problem lies.

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