25 Apr 2002 : Column 447

House of Commons

Thursday 25 April 2002

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


HSBC Investment Banking Bill [Lords]

Read a Second time, and committed.

London Development Agency Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 2 May.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Learning and Skills Council

1. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): If she will make a statement on the future funding of sixth forms by the Learning and Skills Council. [50345]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Since 1 April 2002 local education authorities have been funded by the Learning and Skills Council for provision in their school sixth forms. The funding allocations for 2002–03 were announced on 7 March.

Chris Grayling: I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware that many school sixth forms are already complaining that they have lost funding as a result of the changes. In a matter of three weeks we have had pronouncements from the LSC that it plans to withdraw funding for a number of smaller sixth forms over the next few years. What do the Government have against school sixth forms?

Mr. Lewis: Because of the new LSC formula that is being applied to school sixth forms they are getting significantly more funding than ever before. That funding is being phased in over two years to take account of the concerns that LEAs have expressed. Let us be clear that there must be initially a poor inspection and secondly a poor reinspection before we consider the closure of a school sixth form.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): There are no schools with sixth form provision in my constituency; the only provision available there is on the Bolton sixth form

25 Apr 2002 : Column 448

college south campus. The difference in funding between school sixth forms and sixth form colleges is approaching £1,000, so young people in my constituency are seriously disadvantaged. Can my hon. Friend assure my potential sixth formers that their funding will increase in the very near future?

Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Government are committed to convergence upwards in funding, and we will announce our proposals immediately following the conclusions of the spending review.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): When the Learning and Skills Act 2000 went through the House we were promised that there would be convergence upwards, as the Minister has said, and that there would be a rationalisation of funding streams, particularly those for further education colleges. This year the convergence has been downwards; the funding is £900 less for FE colleges and £500 less for schools, and the average figure is £2,600. There are now 71 different funding streams into FE colleges. When will the Minister deliver?

Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman should not get so excited. I am surprised that he is not in touch with the fact that the number of funding streams has been reduced to nine, to take account of the concerns expressed by the FE sector. We have made it clear that we are committed to and accept the case for convergence. The level and nature of that convergence must be worked out in the context of available resources.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Will the Minister consult LEAs about the effects of LSC funding on school intakes? I am told that in Nottingham a number of schools are having difficulties in attracting and retaining pupils, who are migrating to county areas where they have access to schools with sixth forms, rather than remaining in city schools where funding is more restricted. Will the Minister consult LEAs to find out whether that is a significant problem in the context of funding streams?

Mr. Lewis: The LSC has a duty to consult LEAs about those areas of concern. If my hon. Friend provides me with information about difficulties of that nature, we will speak to the relevant local learning and skills council.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister talks about increased funding for schools, yet the truth was confirmed by the Minister for School Standards in a written answer to me last night: schools will be £150 million worse off as a result of the Chancellor's tax on jobs. Is not the truth that the Government take back with one hand what they have given with the other, and schools are worse off as a result?

Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman makes a point that nobody in the country believes; everybody accepts that massive additional investment is going into our primary and secondary schools. As for the Budget and the spending review, the Chancellor has made it clear that education will continue to be the Government's first priority.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that as a consequence of the £1,000 funding

25 Apr 2002 : Column 449

differential between college and school students, teaching staff in colleges suffer from a severe salary differential between themselves and those in school sixth forms? Teachers in the two excellent colleges in my constituency, Bury college and Holy Cross sixth form college, receive up to £5,000 a year less than teachers doing essentially the same job in sixth forms in neighbouring constituencies. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is unacceptable, and will he—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman always speaks for far too long when called for a question.

Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend is right to make the point that there is a difference. It is important to define the nature of that difference and create a framework that will lead to a fair funding distribution. Our objectives include more reform and investment in further education establishments in future.

Child Protection

2. Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk): What mechanisms are in place to ensure that schools have a policy on child protection. [50346]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): The right hon. Lady will be familiar with the Department's circular 10/95 on protecting children from abuse, which advises that all staff should be aware of procedures on suspected abuse cases. The circular is backed up by the requirement that Ofsted inspectors must review provisions on pupils' welfare, including arrangements for child protection.

Mrs. Shephard: In the case of six-year-old Lauren Wright in my constituency, of which I know Ministers are aware, both the head and the assistant teacher at her 30-pupil school failed to report her unexplained 4-stone weight loss and bruising as the guidelines required. In the light of that, do Ministers agree that there is a need for guidelines to be made statutory—in other words, that they should be more than guidelines—and for a legal requirement for all schools to have a policy on child protection?

Mr. Timms: I have seen the distressing dossier on the case of Lauren Wright submitted by the right hon. Lady and the all-party group of Norfolk MPs to the Climbié inquiry. Clearly there were serious failings by the school and others, but whether the problem is local or goes wider is less clear. Next month we shall publish a consultation document on revising circular 10/95. I repeat the point made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in a letter to the right hon. Lady—that in response to the matter that she has raised, we are reflecting carefully on whether to introduce changes in the Education Bill to strengthen the basis for child protection arrangements in schools. My right hon. Friend has undertaken to write to her when those deliberations are complete.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Of course, all of us in the House want the highest level of child protection, but we must be careful to get the balance right. Some of us fear that schools are moving towards over-zealousness on child protection and many other issues, which could

25 Apr 2002 : Column 450

stop school trips, and stop children getting out of school into the environment. I understand that there is currently a consultation on whether every parent should be vetted by police before being allowed to accompany children on a school trip. We have to get the balance right; we need to protect children, but schools must remain open to the idea of school trips and other ways of using the environment for learning.

Mr. Timms: My hon. Friend is right about the need for balance. We are contemplating the quite narrow suggestion that there should be a statutory requirement for schools to have a policy and a procedure on dealing with cases of suspected abuse. Ofsted reports that two thirds of schools already have good child protection procedures; the worry is about the small minority in which that is not yet the case.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): I agree with the comments of the right hon. Member for South–West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard). The Minister has just referred to the fact that many schools have clear child protection guidelines in place. Does he agree that it is important that there should be clear sanctions and Government guidelines? Failure to observe guidelines in schools led to the events in the Lauren Wright case.

Mr. Timms: At the moment the guidance is not statutory, so sanctions are not in place. In the case in question the governing body has accepted that it was at fault, as there was no designated teacher to address the issue. It is accepted that that was a serious error on its part. If we were to introduce a statutory duty such as that proposed, it would change the nature of the requirements for schools.

Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): Does my hon. Friend agree that the two watchwords concerning people going into our schools are "protection" and "quality", in terms of who is teaching the pupils, who has access to them and what is being taught? It is vital that we get the procedures right to ensure that there is rigorous inspection of people who go into schools, to whom vulnerable children may be exposed. The quality and the standard of the education that they provide are also important.

One of the concerns arising from the evidence given by Mr. Tomlinson to the Select Committee is the lack of regulation of supply teacher agencies. Very little regard is paid to who is entering such agencies and what the standards are. If a school rings up an agency after being sent a teacher one day and says, "Don't send that person again, because the standard is not satisfactory," that teacher may well be sent to another school the next day—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Timms: My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of the concerns that have been expressed about supply teacher agencies. In the light of those concerns, we will table amendments to the Education Bill to strengthen the arrangements for reporting misconduct where it arises. The proposals will ensure that agencies and other employers have a statutory duty to report cases of

25 Apr 2002 : Column 451

misconduct by their employees. That will help, and the quality mark that we propose for teacher supply agencies will also be an important step forward.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): The case was obviously very tragic, but Lauren Wright was killed not by teachers, social workers or paediatricians, but by a wicked stepmother, who also happened to be a welfare assistant at the school. Does the Minister agree that if a statutory policy had been in place, it would have helped very much in this case?

Mr. Timms: Yes. As I understand it, while Lauren was attending the school her weight fell from six stone to two stone and she was often seen covered in bruises, yet neither of the teachers expressed concerns or referred the matter to social services. The stepmother's employment at the school may well have been a factor.

Next Section

IndexHome Page