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8 Mar 2010 : Column 8

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the constructive meeting to talk about EMAs with young people from Northampton. May I stress the fact that a number of young people who are at university in Northampton were able to go only because they received an EMA to stay on at secondary school and finish their A-levels?

Mr. Wright: The Secretary of State and I really enjoyed our meeting with students from my hon. Friend's constituency. They convinced me-if I needed convincing -that EMAs are an absolutely essential part of what we offer to young people as they go forward and participate in education and training post-16. Let me be absolutely clear with the House and, in particular, with my hon. Friend, who really supports that policy agenda. No ifs, no buts: we will continue to maintain education maintenance allowance from 16 onwards. That way we think that we can break the cycle between household income and educational attainment; and that way we can have real social justice in this country.

Primary Schools (Literacy)

6. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve the level of literacy of primary school pupils. [320680]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Literacy standards in primary schools have never been higher. Eighty per cent. of 11-year-olds are now reaching the target level in English, up 17 percentage points from 1997. Record levels of funding and support, coupled with programmes such as communication, language and literacy development, Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer and, now, the pupil guarantee, all continue to drive up standards and progression.

Andrew Rosindell: But this year's key stage 2 results are, I believe, the clearest indication yet that the Government's policies for primary education have not only stalled but failed. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to focus on the use of tried and tested teaching methods in our primary schools?

Mr. Coaker: I do not see how 100,000 more children achieving level 4 this year when compared with 1997 is a record of failure; I think that it is a record of sustained progress of which we can be proud. We are, of course, looking to see what further measures we can take to ensure that all children achieve the level that they should. That is why we are introducing one-to-one tuition and small group work; that is why the programmes to which I have referred, Every Child a Reader and Every Child a Writer, will be expanded and developed; and that is why we have recently announced proposals to allow the best primary schools to federate and join those primary schools that need support. So, over a period, we shall see continued and sustained progress.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the success in raising literacy standards is very largely due to our highly skilled teaching work force? If that is to continue and we are to achieve even better results, we must ensure that their continuing
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professional development-CPD-goes on unmarred. Does he realise that the "rarely cover" policy is interpreted in some schools as stopping CPD taking place?

Mr. Coaker: "Rarely cover" arrangements, as my hon. Friend will know as Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, should not stop CPD in any form. Continuing professional development is an important part of the entitlement of every teacher in our schools, and one way in which we want to see that progress and become entrenched is with a licence to practise, which we are introducing through the current Children, Schools and Families Bill, and which will mean a statutory entitlement for teachers with respect to their continuing professional development.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): The Minister knows that the foundations for children's literacy are laid in the very first years of their school life, and that the true record of Labour in that respect is no improvement in the national standards of reading at key stage 1 since 2001, and a decline in the standard of writing. Is it not time to start doing as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) has said and focus on tried and trusted teaching methods, such as synthetic phonics, and bring in an effective reading test when children are six years old in order to ensure that every child has the opportunity to master the essential skills of reading, which will stand them in good stead for the future?

Mr. Coaker: Of course we want to improve reading and writing. That is why we introduced Sure Start, which, as the hon. Lady will know, her party proposes to cut. She also mentioned the introduction of phonics as a way of ensuring that young children, particularly those at key stage 1, achieve the levels that they should, and she will know that it is now mandatory for schools to teach phonics at key stage 1.

September Guarantee

7. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the number of young people who are staying in education or training in 2010 as a result of the September guarantee. [320681]

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Our school leavers guarantee will ensure that all young people leaving school this September will be offered a school, college or apprenticeship place. We have allocated £8.2 billion to fund a total of 1.6 million learner places for 16 to 18-year-olds in 2010-11. That includes 142,500 more places than we had originally planned, thanks to the generosity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with 449 extra places in Milton Keynes in 2010-11.

Dr. Starkey: I thank the Secretary of State for those additional places. He knows that the youth unemployment level in Milton Keynes has gone up quite considerably during the recession. Can he assure me that he will maintain the September guarantee and the funding that goes with it, and that he will not be tempted to remove it too early simply in order to pay down the deficit?

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Ed Balls: My hon. Friend's point is very important. In the pre-Budget report, the Chancellor of the Exchequer allowed us, for this year, next year and the year after, to ring-fence funding for Sure Start, for schools and for the school leavers guarantee, with rising funding in real terms, so that we can provide these extra places-a pledge that we will make and that the Conservatives refuse to match, because of their commitment to have cuts now to reduce the deficit.

May I give my hon. Friend a figure about her constituency that I know will be of interest to her? In Milton Keynes, youth unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds exceeding six months now stands at 365 young people. That is a low number because of the new deal, the school leavers guarantee and the future jobs fund. The figure peaked in June 1985 at 1,285 young people-almost four times as many. That is what happens when one cuts spending and does not act to protect youth jobs.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Can I give the Secretary of State a figure, as well? Over the past 10 years, the number of people aged between 16 and 24 who are not in education or employment has risen by 150,000 to 750,000. In my constituency, H. J. Berry, the oldest chair-maker in Britain, has closed, with the loss of 85 jobs; the oldest shoe shop in Clitheroe, D. Lord & Son, has closed; and we have recently seen the closure of Kaydee bookshop, with a loss of jobs. Let us forget the September guarantee and have the May promise-that we will get off the backs of entrepreneurs and allow them to create jobs for young people and others alike.

Ed Balls: It is very important to protect and support entrepreneurs in creating more jobs for the future; there is a consensus on that on both sides of the House. I am proud of the fact that this year, compared with last year, the figures for young people not in education, employment or training have fallen for 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds, even in a recession. The reason for that is that, unlike the Conservatives, we will not forget the school leavers guarantee. We will fund the school leavers guarantee so that there is a college, school or apprenticeship place for every young person, not just some young people.

Primary Schools (Attainment)

8. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve standards of attainment in primary schools; and if he will make a statement. [320682]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Primary school standards have improved significantly over the past 12 years, with 100,000 more children now leaving primary school secure in the basics than in 1997, and a 19 percentage points increase in pupils achieving the expected standard in English and maths. There is still more to do if every child is to succeed at primary school. That is why last December we launched the world-class primaries programme, which will support local authorities in helping to bring all primary schools up to the level of the best.

Mr. Swayne: As a governor of a primary school-[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] As a former governor, I should say, of a primary school- [ Interruption ] -and, indeed,
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a former pupil, I quite understand the urge of Ministers to interfere from the centre, given the lunacy of what has sometimes passed for education in primary schools. However, does the Minister understand that the sheer volume of initiatives and prescriptions is becoming part of the problem, and that is certainly what the profession is complaining about?

Mr. Coaker: One of the things that the Government are doing, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is to provide that from 2011 national strategies will have ended, with the money passed down to schools, including primary schools, to enable them to choose how best to spend that money within their own school. That will make a significant difference. As I said in a previous answer, one of the best initiatives-some initiatives are indeed better than others-in improving practice, whether or not it involves the primary school at which he was a governor, is to allow the sharing of best practice between schools that are achieving significantly better results than others to try to help and support those others to bring them up to the level that we all want.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend congratulate all the primary schools in my constituency on their excellent improved standards, much assisted by the reduction in class sizes brought about by the transfer of £2.25 million within the constituency from the Tories' assisted places scheme? Will he congratulate them also on the wonderful rebuilding that is taking place, for instance at St. Agnes Church of England primary school and the Acacias community school? All that is because of a Labour Government.

Mr. Coaker: I am happy to join my right hon. Friend in congratulating the head teachers and teaching staff in primary schools in his constituency, and all the teaching profession across the country, on the work that they are doing and have done to improve standards.

My right hon. Friend refers to class sizes, and I can inform the House that in 1997, 29 per cent. of pupils were in classes of more than 30. Now, just 2.1 per cent. are in unlawfully large classes, and the overall average is 26.2 pupils per class. That is a significant improvement as a result of this Government's investment.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Even given that improvement, it has been reported that more than 10,000 pupils in primary schools are in teaching groups of more than 40. How will that help to raise school standards? Is it not time that the Government considered the Liberal Democrats' proposal for a pupil premium, which would put extra money into schools with disadvantaged children and enable the head teacher to choose to have smaller classes sizes, if that is the best option?

Mr. Coaker: I suppose at least the Liberal Democrats are saying how they are going to pay for their pupil premium, although we do not agree with cutting tax credits to provide the £2.5 billion to support it. As I have said, we have invested significant sums of money into primary schools. In virtually every primary school across the country, there have been significant reductions in class sizes alongside additional teaching staff. That is one reason why we are seeing a significant increase in results. The Government are committed to ensuring
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that front-line services are protected, which is why we announced in the pre-Budget report a 0.7 per cent. real-terms increase in school funding, a promise that-

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): One of the most effective ways of improving attainment in primary schools is to encourage reading at home. The evidence from my constituency appears to be that the good work being undertaken by Sure Start is bringing that about. Will my hon. Friend assure us that that work will continue under the next Labour Government?

Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend makes a really important point about the importance of Sure Start, in which we will of course continue the investment. He is absolutely right that if we want to tackle the reading and writing problems of some of our poorest pupils, the involvement of parents and reading at home makes a significant difference. That is why many schools that are trying to tackle reading and writing problems invite parents in, work with them and in some cases offer them literacy classes, as those parents themselves often have very poor reading and writing skills. It is not that they do not want to read to their sons or daughters, but sometimes they simply do not have the skills to do so even if they wish to.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): A number of recent reports from Cambridge down, including from the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, have expressed great concern about the need for even better-quality teachers in our primary schools, where some teachers have got on to teacher training programmes with no A-levels at all. Does the Minister share those concerns, and does he agree that as well as encouraging more specialists into teaching, we should ensure that primary school teachers have secured at least grade B level GCSEs in English and maths as a basic requirement, to help guarantee quality teaching for all primary school pupils?

Mr. Coaker: What we want in our primary schools is good teachers, and many of them are excellent. We have the most highly qualified and best teaching work force that we have had, according to Ofsted. Rather than lecturing me about standards for teachers, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider whether Carol Vorderman is the right person to be the adviser to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), under whose proposals, as he will know, she would not be regarded as appropriate because she does not have the right class of degree.

Mr. Speaker: Order. We started making very good progress at Question Time, since which time questions have tended to get longer and so have answers. We need to speed up.

Secondary Schools (Copeland)

9. Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): What plans he has to rebuild and refurbish secondary schools in Copeland. [320683]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Building Schools for the Future is the main programme for the strategic investment of capital funding
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for secondary schools. The Secretary of State announced today the latest six authorities to be invited to enter the programme, which have been assessed as the most ready to commence their projects. Cumbria is one of three authorities that came close to being selected. With some extra work in certain areas, it is well placed to enter the programme at the next available opportunity. Partnerships for Schools will work with the authority to assist it to prepare for entry.

Mr. Reed: I am grateful for the Minister's response. Without question, attainment levels in schools in my county are rising as a result of the investment we have been putting in, but enough is enough with regard to the local education authority. This is the second time that it has missed an open goal for attracting school funding to my part of the world and the Workington constituency. Will he now meet me, the LEA and head teachers, and send in a Government hit squad to sort the LEA out once and for all?

Mr. Coaker: I know the schools in my hon. Friend's constituency well-as he knows, I visited Cumbria the week before last. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also visited the county to look at the quality of education and particularly at school buildings. I am quite happy to meet not only my hon. Friend to discuss Cumbria's progress and how we take matters forward, but any other local Member and, indeed, the local authority.

Young People in Care

10. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): What recent representations he has received from local authorities on the safety and security of young people in care. [320684]

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Dawn Primarolo): I have not received any recent representations from local authorities concerning the security of young people in care.

Mr. Steen: I am puzzled about that, because last week UNICEF produced an excellent report, in which it said that three councils-Kent, Solihull and Harrow-reported losing contact with children in their care and expressed concern that there could be thousands more out there at risk of exploitation, but invisible to the professionals. Will the Minister confirm that she will immediately put an end to trafficked children being accommodated in bedsits and hostels, where they are very much at risk from their traffickers? It really is a bit of a scandal that children are disappearing-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry but I have appealed for briefer questions.

Mr. Steen: It was brief.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am afraid it was not brief-that is the trouble.

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