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Area Cost Adjustment

15. Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what recent discussions she has had about the area cost adjustment. [14645]

Mr. Timms: My right hon. Friend has discussions about various aspects of the current and future funding formula for local education authorities from time to time.

Higher Education (Participation)

16. Mr. Barnes: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what steps she is taking to increase participation in higher education. [14646]

Margaret Hodge: Our programmes to raise standards in schools and colleges will have a major impact on increasing participation. Our new Aim Higher advertising campaign, together with the Excellence Challenge programme, will encourage more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter HE. We are also encouraging Higher Education Institutions to introduce a range of measures to enable more people to participate in higher education including part-time learning and access programmes for mature students.

Teacher Recruitment

17. Ms Bridget Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what recent action she has taken to increase teacher recruitment. [14647]

Mr. Timms: Better rewards, status and working conditions have already helped to deliver more teachers in maintained schools in England than at any time since 1984. We have pledged to secure at least a further 10,000 by 2006. In addition, training bursaries and Golden Hellos have reversed an eight-year decline in recruitment to initial teacher training. This year, numbers of trainees have risen for the second year in a row, to their highest level since 1994/95.

Nursery Places (Lancashire)

18. Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what plans she has to increase the number of nursery places available in Lancashire. [14648]

Mr. Timms: Already all four year olds in Lancashire are able to access a free part-time nursery education place. In the near future, we will be announcing to all local authorities in England, details of the specific funding we will be making available, to increase the number of free nursery education places available for three year olds in their areas.

Pupil Attainment (Secondary Education)

19. Helen Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what steps she is taking to improve the attainment of pupils in the early years of secondary education. [14649]

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Mr. Timms: Our plans to transform secondary education include a major programme to help schools improve the attainment of all 11 to 14-year-olds. The key stage 3 strategy sets high expectations and challenging targets. It aims to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom by investing in teachers' professional development. Expenditure on the strategy will be £489 million to 2003–04.

GCSE Results

22. Andy Burnham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment she has made of the latest set of GCSE results. [14652]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: The statistics published by the Department on 20 November show that 50.0 per cent. of 15-year-olds gained at least five top grades this year. We have, therefore, met the Government's target—for 50 per cent. of 15-year-olds to achieve five GCSE grades A*-C by 2002—a year early. This is a result of pupils working hard, and of the first class support they receive from teachers. There are many new policies to tackle underachievement in schools and these are feeding through now into more candidates achieving better GCSEs.

Maintenance Grants

23. Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will restore maintenance grants to attract students to universities from less well-off backgrounds. [14653]

Margaret Hodge: Options for attracting students from lower income families into higher education are being considered as part of the student support review my right hon. Friend announced in October. As part of the Excellence Challenge programme, funding has already been set aside for up to 25,000 Opportunity Bursaries worth £2,000 each for students from less well-off backgrounds over the next three years. In 2001–02 we have also improved grant provision for lone parents and students with dependants with a new child care grant of 85 per cent. of the actual costs during term time and the short vacations and a travel, books and equipment grant. This is in addition to increasing significantly disabled students allowances and hardship grants during the last four years.

Competitive Team Sports

24. Mr. Reed: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what steps she is taking to increase competitive team sports in schools. [14654]

Mr. Timms: Competitive games are a compulsory part of the National Curriculum for Physical Education for pupils aged between five and 14, and are one of the options for pupils aged 14 to 16. The Government's White Paper "School—Achieving Success" includes a pledge that all children will receive two hours of physical education and school sport a week, within and outside the curriculum. We are currently consulting on how best this can be delivered. We have established over 370 school sports co-ordinators to assist families of primary and secondary schools to deliver after-school competitive sports.

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Learning and Skills Council

25. Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what guidance she has given to learning and skills councils on the financial support of post-16 education in schools. [14655]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: We have guaranteed that school sixth form funding will be maintained in real terms, uprated for inflation, provided that numbers do not fall.

Alistair Burt: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what her estimate is of the operating costs of the Learning and Skills Council in (a) 2001–02 and (b) 2002–03. [17296]

Margaret Hodge: The original budgets for the administration costs of the Learning and Skills Council were set some time ago as £188 million for 2001–2 and £193 million for 2002–3. While the council may wish us to consider an increase in their budget we will ensure that annual administration costs will remain at least £50 million lower than the relevant administration costs of its predecessor bodies.

Class Sizes (Key Stage 1)

27. Mr. Hopkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what progress she has made with implementing the Government's class size policy for key stage 1. [14657]

Mr. Timms: On 15 November we announced that 99.5 per cent. of infants are now in classes of 30 or fewer. This is excellent news and means that, apart from permitted exceptions, now just 0.1 per cent. of the 63,000 infant classes have extra children.

Teaching Vacancies

28. Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what recent meetings she has had with the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers to discuss the number of teacher vacancies in secondary schools. [14658]

Mr. Timms: I last met representatives of NASUWT on 31 October 2001. A range of issues was discussed, including the terms of teachers' employment, but the number of teacher vacancies was not specifically raised by NASUWT.

20. Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills how many teacher vacancies there are in secondary schools; and if she will make a statement. [14650]

Mr. Timms: Information on the number of teacher vacancies in local education authorities is collected once a year in January as part of the annual census of teachers and vacancies. In January 2001, local education authorities recorded 2,586 vacancies in secondary schools.

Education and Business Links

29. Mr. Plaskitt: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what steps she is taking to provide closer links between further and higher education establishments and business. [14659]

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Margaret Hodge: The Government recognise the importance of enhancing links between further and higher education institutions and business. We are investing £100 million over the next three years to create a national network of Centres of Vocational Excellence in Further Education. Centres will enable colleges to develop their links with employer networks and to focus specialist vocational provision on meeting the skills needs of employers at local, regional, national and sectoral level. In doing so they will secure active employer/college engagement to underpin, develop and strengthen innovative and flexible approaches to meeting current and future skills. We are also making available £25 million towards establishing New Technology Institutes (NTls) in each region from autumn 2002. NTls, involving colleges, universities and the private sector, will increase the supply of people with skills in information and communications technology and provide support to local businesses on new technology and innovative business practices. A core feature of the new Foundation Degree, which is being introduced from this autumn, is that employers are actively involved in the design and subsequent review of programmes along with higher and further education institutions, national training organisations and other professional bodies. The Higher Education Innovation Fund provides funding to help higher education institutions make organisational and structural arrangements to enhance their interaction with business. Almost £80 million has been allocated to a wide range of institutions for the most recent round of projects, which will take place over the next three years.

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