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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith): We have received a number of representations from hon. Members, the head teacher associations, local education authorities, schools and parents, many of whom welcome the extra investment that the Government are making in educating excluded pupils and providing in-school units for disruptive pupils.
Mr. Amess: Will the Government please reconsider their ridiculous policy of setting targets for the number of children excluded from schools? In particular, will the Minister reflect on the damaging effects of circular 10/99, which has meant that in my constituency when a child was caught bringing drugs into school and the parents appealed, the child was reinstated on the basis of being found with drugs but not caught selling them? Does she appreciate how damaging that is to the morale of teachers and, in particular, the effect that it has had on the headmaster?
Jacqui Smith: I have corresponded with the hon. Gentleman about that matter. We have listened to head teacher associations and strengthened our guidance to exclusion appeals panels. My right hon. Friend the
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is right for the Government to give schools that have a disproportionate number of children with very challenging behaviour every support, and that targets for exclusions should not be set where the local circumstances make it clear that they are unrealistic?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right. We need to provide support for schools, which is why schools have welcomed the resources that we are making available for these purposes. This Government are making available 10 times the amount of money made available by the previous Government. As a result, there are 1,000 learning support units in our schools providing the support that disruptive pupils need. The removal of those pupils from the classroom enables children to learn and teachers to teach. Such initiatives, and the money to back them up, were noticeably lacking under the previous Government.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Is the Minister concerned about children who have had to be excluded from school because they have contracted tuberculosis? What talks is she having with her colleagues in the Department of Health about reinstating the screening and vaccination programme that the Government dropped several years ago?
Jacqui Smith: I have had discussions with my colleagues in the Department of Health, and the vaccination programme is being reinstated. However, the head teacher and the health authorities involved in the recent case in Leicestershire have made it clear that the children attending the school received screening where it was necessary, and that they were easily treated. Action in that regard is being taken by my Department and the Department of Health, and by local health and education authorities.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): How does the Minister reconcile her answer on exclusions with the maintenance and imposition of arbitrary exclusion targets? Those targets force schools to put up with disruptive and often violent pupils, who damage the opportunities of other children and undermine the morale of teachers already doing a very tough job. In addition, the targets call into question the judgment of governors, who make every effort to put first the interests of the whole school. Will the Minister take this opportunity to abandon those arbitrary targets and to put her trust in the professional judgment of heads and teachers? In that way she will back up our schools, governors, parents and pupils.
Jacqui Smith: We do trust the professional judgment of our head teachers. We also accept what they have made clear to us--that they need the resources to support them in dealing with disruptive pupils before they get as far as exclusion, and in making sure that excluded pupils also receive the sort of education that they need outside schools. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) recently admitted
I recall from my time as a teacher that, under the previous Government, the lack of resources and the fact that there were no learning support units in place meant that there was no choice other than to exclude a child or do nothing. This Government have provided 10 times more resources for schools and local education authorities than did the previous Government. We trust the professionalism of head teachers, and we have made available to schools and local education authorities the resources that they need to deal with disruptive pupils.
The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): Schools in Ilford, South received over £0.5 million through the school standards grant in 2000-01, and will receive more than £1.1 million in this financial year. Since 1997, they have also been allocated over £3 million through the new deal for schools. All schools in Redbridge have benefited from increases of £33.3 million in the education standard spending assessment.
Mr. Gapes: I am grateful for that reply. When I visited one of the high schools in my constituency which has technology college status, the head teacher told me that she had never had so much money. The school serves the most deprived part of my constituency. People from all over the world live there, and the parents of the children at the school speak probably as many as 100 different languages. Is it not a good sign that the Government are providing resources for those priorities? Can my right hon. Friend please ensure that the programmes that are already in place and the sure start programme, which is also benefiting my constituency, will continue for the next five years?
Ms Morris: I am pleased to hear of the success of the schools in my hon. Friend's constituency. I record my thanks to the teachers in those schools. The improvements in results at all age groups have been faster than the national average and that is down to the hard work of teachers and support assistants. I pay tribute to them. It is interesting that the message that we have had from the head teacher in my hon. Friend's constituency is exactly the same as that from the infants school in Worcestershire. There is more money, they have never had so much money and they welcome it. As the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith) said, we trust the professional judgment of teachers, and that is their message. I am delighted to reiterate that the increase in funding for education over the past four years will continue in the next Parliament.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks): Schools can only gain from our proposals because their funding levels are protected by our real-terms guarantee: that their funding will be maintained at the 2000-01 level plus an annual uprating, provided that their numbers do not fall. This is an unprecedented guarantee. Schools have never before had a commitment to guarantee their real-terms funding in this way.
Mr. Jack: I do not think that the head of the Lytham St. Anne's high technology college in my constituency would have understood much of the Minister's answer. The words from the Dispatch Box would give him little comfort about the fact that he is still struggling to deliver the new A-level curriculum. In addition, there is growing suspicion, now that the learning and skills councils are responsible for funding sixth-form education, about whether there will be discrimination against schools with a traditional sixth form. Can the Minister make an unequivocal statement today that the learning and skills councils will not discriminate against schools with traditional sixth forms and that such schools will be properly funded in future?
Mr. Wicks: We have provided extra resources for curriculum 2000 for the new AS-level regime. Today I have given an unprecedented real-terms guarantee about the funding of those schools. I am sure that that will be good news for the head teacher, pupils and parents of that school. With the new learning and skills councils, which take over funding from April 2002, there will be a new regime. We are consulting and listening hard. It is important for each and every school with a sixth form that the funding is maintained. The role of schools with sixth forms is paramount in our education policy.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Is it not a fact that the sixth forms at schools such as Haberghan and St. Theodore's in Burnley, like those in the rest of Lancashire, will be able to go forward and build on their success of the past four years and that they have nothing to worry about? Nobody should be putting scare stories around about what the Government are doing.
Mr. Wicks: I congratulate those schools on their work. With curriculum 2000 our young people at 16 can now study four or five subjects rather than be narrowed down to two or three. I hope that no political party will try to dig out from the skip of scaremongering stories to the