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School Sport

7. Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): What steps she is taking to improve the level of participation in competitive school sport in the east midlands. [23837]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): We have already funded almost 500 school sports co-ordinators nationally to assist families of schools to deliver after-school competitive sports. Thirty co-ordinators are in post in the east midlands covering 204 schools. Competitive games are a compulsory part of the national curriculum for pupils aged between five and 14 and are an option for 14 to 16-year-olds.

Mr. Reed: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, but does he agree that while school sports co-ordinators are a fantastic success, by the time we produce the 1,000 or so that we need throughout the country, the current funding stream will end? Will he assure the House that he is doing everything that he can to ensure continued core funding for school sports co-ordinators, and also to ensure that at least two hours of sport is undertaken by children during core curriculum time? If we do not do that, we will have a nation of couch potatoes. We have already seen obesity increasing among children. School sports co-ordinators offer a fantastic chance to make a difference. Will he assure me and the House that they will be funded for the long term?

Mr. Lewis: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's long track record of passionately arguing the importance of school sport and physical education. He has rightly been a powerful advocate of this important part of a child's educational experience. I can give him and the House a cast-iron guarantee that the continued and expanded funding of school sports co-ordinators will be considered as part of the 2002 spending review. I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or the Treasury would allow me to say anything different at this stage. We are consulting on how we can ensure that the Government's commitment to two hours of high-quality physical education and school sport happens in practice. One issue that we will consider is the whole concept of that being part of, or outside, the school day. That will feature in the consultation process.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I am not sure whether the Minister is old enough to remember the 1970s and 1980s, but many of us in the House can, including, I think, the Secretary of State. [Interruption.] I am sure that she is much younger than me.

In the 1970s and 1980s, competitive school sport was undermined by the dogma of Labour education authorities. [Interruption.] It is no good the Minister addressing the matter in such a way, as he obviously does not remember. Will he now pledge that any local education authority that says that we must not have competitive school sport will be brought into line by the Government? It was Labour dogma that destroyed competitive school sport in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr. Lewis: The comments about my right hon. Friend's age were disgraceful and unforgivable. The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that the Conservative party was in government from 1979 onwards and that it was the Conservative Government who forced schools to flog off playing fields to pay for basic repairs to schools, which we have funded properly since we came to power. We have spent millions of pounds and we plan to spend a further £7.8 billion on school buildings. As a result

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of the Government's commitment to giving schools resources, schools no longer need to flog off playing fields. Alongside the legislation that we have introduced, that means that schools have more opportunity to enable their pupils to participate in competitive sports.

Events that the hon. Gentleman mentioned had nothing to do with dogma or ideology and everything to do with lack of resources and forcing schools to flog off basic facilities.

Examination Results

8. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): What recent assessment she has made of the attainment rates of GCSEs grade A* to C. [23838]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): The results published on 20 November show that 50 per cent. of 15-year-olds gained at least five good GCSEs this year, compared with 49.2 per cent. last year—an increase of 3.7 percentage points since the targets were set in 1997. We are delighted that the 50 per cent. mark has been reached a year early.

Roger Casale: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he join me in congratulating Wimbledon college in my constituency on increasing the number of students who received a grade between A and C at GCSE from 46 per cent. to 57 per cent? Does he agree that the individual variations in schools' performance scupper the argument that improved standards are achieved through easier exams? If that were the case, the impact would be the same on all schools. We should recognise that improvements in schools occur as a result of the dedication and hard work of teachers, students, support staff and parents. We should reward best practice in schools such as Wimbledon college and ensure that it spreads to other schools.

Mr. Timms: I agree with my hon. Friend and I am glad to join him in paying tribute to the achievements of Wimbledon college. Each year, as improvements occur, some people claim that they are the result of easier examinations. That is not the case. We have an extensive monitoring programme through the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. It shows that the difficulty of the syllabus and the performance of GCSE examination candidates have been broadly maintained not only in the past few years but over decades. Standards in public exams are more rigorously scrutinised today than in the past. It is right to commend the achievements of young people and schools that have enabled important and welcome progress.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): The Minister will clearly be aware of the Department's recently commissioned research, which shows that attainment rates at GCSE level in coalfield communities lag considerably behind the national average. The Government have adopted a targeted approach to educational underachievement in urban areas; will they consider a similar approach to those problems in coalfield communities? Will the Secretary of State consider holding

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a joint ministerial summit with her colleagues in Wales and Scotland, where there is a similar pattern of underachievement in coalfield communities?

Mr. Timms: We are adopting a targeted approach across the country. We have introduced floor targets so that every school, wherever it is based, will be supported to secure at least 20 per cent. of students with five good GCSEs by 2004, rising to 25 per cent. by 2006. Wherever those schools are located, they will be supported to increase their achievement levels to that of the floor target, which will rise with time.

Our excellent clusters approach targets parts of the country that are outside urban areas, for which excellence in cities is available, to tackle disadvantage and deprivation in rural communities.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): I think that I am right in saying that the range of grades for GCSEs runs from A to G. Unfortunately, a lot of children get grades E, F or G, for which they do not think it is even worth bothering to turn up to the presentation ceremonies to receive their certificates. Can my hon. Friend assure me that we will consider a broader range of options for young people at 14, so that they are not forced into doing subjects that they do not feel motivated to do, ending up with qualifications that they do not feel will serve any purpose? I am talking about options on the more vocational routes, which I hope will keep young people learning and may lead them to keep learning beyond the age of 16.

Mr. Timms: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I would not want to denigrate the achievements of some youngsters in obtaining E, F and G passes at GCSE, and we have seen the number of children with no qualifications fall again this summer, which I welcome. But my hon. Friend is right in saying that we need to extend opportunities to young people beyond the age of 14. That is the intention that we set out in the White Paper and we are debating the matter in the Education Bill Committee at the moment. We shall shortly give further details of our proposals to extend opportunities and raise standards for young people beyond 14.

Further Education (Teaching Vacancies)

9. Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): What recent meetings she has had with the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education to discuss the shortage of (a) teachers and (b) lecturers in further education. [23839]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Margaret Hodge): We have had a number of meetings in recent months with representatives of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education. Discussion at those meetings covered a wide range of issues about the further education sector, including teacher and lecturer shortages in some subject areas, and the initiatives that the Government have introduced to attract new staff into the profession and to reward and retain excellent FE teachers and lecturers.

Mr. Hoban: Fareham college in my constituency is finding it very difficult to recruit staff because of a combination of lower pay and a heavier work load leading to poor morale for teachers and lecturers throughout the

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sector. It is finding it difficult to refill vacancies, and is having to advertise three or four times to find the right calibre of staff. It is not only the secondary sector in my constituency that is suffering. Will the Minister set out in detail what she is going to do to address the recruitment and retention crisis in the further education sector?

Margaret Hodge: The reason why the college in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has found it tough to recruit and retain excellent teachers in past years is the cuts in spending on further education that the college had to bear under the Conservative Government—12 per cent. in five years. That is part of the legacy that we have inherited. Since we have come into government, we have increased the amount of money available to FE colleges by 17 per cent. in real terms. Specifically to attract new teachers into the FE sector, we are introducing golden hellos, helping with teaching bursaries and looking at helping with student loan write-offs. As in the secondary and primary sectors, we acknowledge a problem, but we are the ones tackling it; the Conservatives were the ones ignoring it.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee on Education and Skills interviewed three of the major teaching unions yesterday? Is she further aware of the changed atmosphere in the unions? There is a much more positive spirit, in terms of recruitment and of what they think the Government are achieving. On the other hand, a recent meeting with NATFHE flagged up some real concerns about recruitment into the FE sector. The Government rely on this sector, which covers the ages of 16 to 19, to deliver the sort of educational performance that we need for people who often miss out in the first phase of education. Will my hon. Friend take seriously the fact that something has to be done very quickly about recruitment?

Margaret Hodge: I am delighted that there are regular meetings between the Education and Skills Committee and the teaching unions, as there are between Ministers and those unions. I agree with my hon. Friend that the atmosphere is one of co-operation and working in partnership. Of course we take seriously the issue of recruiting and retaining high-quality staff in the FE sector. I think that we are the first Government to take the FE sector seriously at all. I hope that initiatives such as the teachers' pay initiative, involving more than £300 million over three years, will start to give some indication of how we want to raise the rewards to excellent teachers in the FE sector.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) raised in his supplementary question the issue of morale and its importance to retaining and recruiting teachers and lecturers. Is the Minister aware that the already low morale in that sector has been lowered still further by the impact on further education of the failure of the Government's individual learning account scheme?

The Association of Colleges tells me that principals, teachers and lecturers have to deal with irate and frustrated students, many of whom are the mature and part-time returners referred to by the Secretary of State, who do not know what is going on, wrongly blame

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colleges and teachers for their experiences and threaten legal action against them. All that is distracting those in further education from what they should be doing.

Will the Minister explain to the House and those in further education who are bearing the brunt of anger that should be directed at the Government what she intends to do about that failed scheme and when; how much her Department's overspend on it already runs to; and which part of her budget—schools, adult education, further education or higher education—will have to be cut to pay for it?

Margaret Hodge: I do not accept that morale in the FE sector is as low as the hon. Gentleman claims. I find in all my discussions with staff and college principals that there is huge confidence in the fact that we are investing real money in the FE sector and raising standards.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that when we discovered that there were genuine problems with the way in which the individual learning account scheme was operating, it was right to stop it. I also hope that had he been in our position, he would have taken a similar decision.

We must get on with the job of sorting out and paying those people who are waiting for the money that they are owed, and we are doing that. We also have to sort out a proper scheme that will ensure that we can encourage learning among adults in the workplace, and we are doing that. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would have tackled the issue any differently had he discovered the problems that we have had. It would have been nice had the Conservatives, over their 18 years in government, done anything—anything at all—to encourage adult learners into such a scheme.

John Cryer (Hornchurch): Does my hon. Friend agree that the root of the problems of FE lecturer shortages is the Conservative Government's policy of incorporation, which in reality was backdoor privatisation?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not think that the Minister will want to answer questions about the last Government. It is her Government who she has to worry about.

John Cryer: I was about to come this Government, Mr. Speaker. The key question we face is whether to inject a degree of democracy and accountability back into FE colleges. Owing to incorporation, the power of principals—or chief executives, as some of those with particularly bloated egos call themselves—became immensely concentrated and there are no checks and balances. That led to depressed wages, de-recognition of unions and deliberate attacks on the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education—many trade union activists were targeted and shifted from their jobs. We need to reintroduce accountability—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call the Minister.

Margaret Hodge: I agree that the introduction of incorporation had terrible impacts for sixth-form colleges in particular and the FE sector in general. I hope that, through the learning and skills councils, we are introducing better mechanisms to ensure that colleges in each locality can work together in the interests of learners in their area. I also hope that the new inspection regime,

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with Ofsted working with the adult learning inspectorate, is achieving better accountability on quality and standards for learners and the local community.

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