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House of Commons

Thursday 23 May 2002

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Development Agency Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 13 June.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Educational Maintenance Allowances

1. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): What assessment she has made of the impact of educational maintenance allowances. [56343]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (John Healey): Independent evaluation of the educational maintenance allowances has been taking place since we introduced them in September 1999. The findings so far are encouraging and show significant increases in the rate of those staying on in full-time education among students from less well-off families. We plan to publish further evaluation reports soon.

Dr. Iddon: According to Roy Whittle, who is the principal of Bolton sixth form college, EMAs have had a significant impact on attendance rates at his college, and therefore on retention rates. Will my hon. Friend take note of a second point that Mr. Whittle has made to me—that he believes that student participation rates would improve significantly if EMAs were paid directly to the students, and not, as at present, to the parents or guardians?

John Healey: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment and question. He is right. His own area, Bolton, is one of the original 15 pilots. There, we are testing payments to parents, but elsewhere we are testing payments direct to students. It is part of the purpose of the pilots to work out not just how well EMAs work, but which model works best and also what impact it has in the longer term on the decisions of young people. We are examining carefully

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what is happening in Bolton, in particular at Bolton college, and in other EMA pilot areas and in control areas, where we do not yet have EMAs.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): Does the Minister agree that it is not just education maintenance allowances, but the right courses and the right settings, that will attract people to and keep them in full-time or part-time education after 16? What plans does the Minister have to implement the Labour party manifesto commitment to increase significantly the number of sixth form colleges? What effect will that have on existing further education provision, particularly in the light of the dismissive comments from his hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning about the success of further education in general colleges?

John Healey: I reject absolutely the suggestion that the ministerial team of the Department for Education and Skills is in any way dismissive of the importance of further education colleges. The hon. Gentleman is right that educational maintenance allowances are part of what we need to put in place to ensure that a range of options is available to young people. The EMAs have a particular purpose: to support the young people most likely to drop out of full-time education, and to encourage those from the most deprived areas to continue their education, partly in further education and sixth form colleges and partly in sixth forms at schools.

Vera Baird (Redcar): May I ask my hon. Friend to make haste with further assessment of the impact of EMAs? Will he take into account the problems caused when one authority has EMAs and the neighbouring one does not? My own Redcar and Cleveland authority does not have EMAs, but the neighbouring authority in Middlesbrough does. They are both very poor areas, and of course students from Redcar go to Middlesbrough, and vice versa. For a student who does not have the allowance, sitting next to someone who does have it can act as a deterrent to taking on courses and to continuing them. Can we hurry? If the benefits are good, can they be rolled out as soon as possible?

John Healey: We plan to publish shortly the second year's evaluation of the EMAs. I have much sympathy with my hon. and learned Friend's point about Redcar. Rotherham is also an area without EMAs, so I am conscious that we cannot continue indefinitely with EMA haves and have-nots sitting side by side in the same classroom. The emerging findings of the evaluation of the EMA programme form part of the discussions going on in Government as part of the spending review process.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): May I make a plea to the Minister for the pilot to be extended to Canvey Island in my constituency, where staying-on rates are particularly low compared with other areas in my constituency and in south Essex? That might help us to increase the participation rate and the retention of students in the local sixth form college.

John Healey: I am delighted to welcome that support from the Opposition Benches for our Labour policy and I

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shall pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor as a spending review representation. I am sure that it will reinforce our arguments with the Treasury.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough): Given the undoubted success of EMAs in places such as Barnsley and Doncaster, is the Minister considering not only rolling out the programme throughout the rest of the country, but extending it to 19 to 24-year-olds? Might I even suggest that he consider extending the programme into higher education as well?

John Healey: My hon. Friend is racing ahead of our current position. As he rightly says, the evaluation of EMAs and our knowledge of their impact in south Yorkshire suggests that they have a genuine role to play at the critical point at which so many of our young people, especially in poorer areas, drop out of full-time education. That is the principal policy purpose of EMAs and we are currently concentrating on evaluating it and testing its potential much more widely across the country.

School Funding (Budget)

2. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): What proportion of the money announced for schools in the Budget was not previously allocated. [56344]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): As was made clear at the time of the Budget, £70 million of the resource for education was new money from the capital modernisation fund. Some of that money has already been allocated to fund more centres of vocational excellence in colleges of further education. The remaining £172 million for schools was made available from existing resources in the Department.

Mr. Gray: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but she will understand my cynical presumption of new Labour double counting, which has now almost become an art form on the Labour Benches. Does she agree that merely spending more money on schools is not necessarily the answer to everything that is wrong with our schools today in places such as North Wiltshire? Does she recall what she said as a junior Minister in an Adjournment debate that I secured on the subject of the SSA? I asked why £2,701 was spent every year on a secondary child in Wiltshire, while in her constituency that figure is £3,031. In the constituency of the Minister for School Standards, the figure is £3,678 a year and in Tower Hamlets it is a staggering £4,237 a year. Why should children in Wiltshire live in the second worst funded county in England and why should her constituents deserve £1,000 a year more per child than mine?

Estelle Morris: It is slightly inconsistent for somebody who began his question by saying that putting money into schools was not everything and would not do the job then to launch a tirade about why his constituency is the second worst funded LEA. However, as I am sure that I said in the Adjournment debate to which the hon. Gentleman referred, although it is right that children in different parts of the country are financed to support their need—I am sure that he agrees that children in some circumstances need extra resources to support additional needs—the existing SSA system, which was developed by his Government, is now out of date. There are many examples

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of unfairness, as he has illustrated. As the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has said, we will announce this year the formula that will be available and will be used for the next financial year. The hon. Gentleman can celebrate the fact that the announcement that is made for this financial year will be the last to be made under the current SSA system.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Schools in my constituency greatly value the substantial extra resources that they have received since this Government came to power, but my right hon. Friend will know about the need to recruit teachers so that we can spend all the money that has been allocated. To encourage more students to take up teaching, will she consider in her review of student finance waiving part of their maintenance loans if they commit themselves to work in state schools for five years or so?

Estelle Morris: I know that, as a former teacher, my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in education, so he will be delighted that in the legislation that is currently before the House of Lords, we have taken the power to write off a student loan over a 10-year period. If somebody stays in teaching for 10 years, the loan will be written off in tenths, so the policy both supports retention and is an acknowledgement of the importance of teaching today. We hope that, when the legislation takes effect, we will be able to introduce that policy from September this year. We will announce further details of how we will do so once the legislation has received Royal Assent.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): Will the right hon. Lady tell the House how much money has been taken away from schools by the Chancellor's increases in national insurance rates in the Budget?

Estelle Morris: Teachers in schools and those in local authorities will, like every employer, pay a share of the increased national insurance contributions. There are two points to make about that. Everyone in schools—pupils, teachers and everyone else—will benefit from the improvements in our national health service that that increase in national insurance contributions will bring about. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that has been widely welcomed. I am absolutely confident that every school in this country has an increased budget this year, as they have under every single year of this Government, and that they will be able to find the additional resources to cover the cost of NIC increases.

Mr. Green: I can understand why the right hon. Lady is too embarrassed to give a straight answer, because the figure is £150 million. Before she challenges that, I point out that it comes from a written answer from the Minister for School Standards. So what she has admitted in the past five minutes is that the Government gave education £70 million of new money in the Budget and took away £150 million. That £150 million will disappear year after year.

Does she recognise that parents, teachers and governors have by now seen through her Department's constant habit of twisting the facts? Does not she see that fiddling the Budget figures does not work, and that boasting one day that exclusions are down, then announcing this morning that they are up, but that she is happy about it,

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is simply not credible? Will she admit that her Department's obsession with managing headlines is now damaging its performance on policy, and that the real victims are children in schools, especially those in our most vulnerable inner city schools?

Estelle Morris: That is rich coming from a Member whose party reduced funding for schools by £120 per pupil over the last five years of Tory Government. The increase in national insurance contributions actually amounts to about £15 per pupil in primary schools and £20 per pupil in secondary schools. The figure that he quoted has to be set against the £1.3 billion settlement that has gone into schools from this year. He is not comparing like with like. The money that has gone through the Budget in the standard spending assessment for this year relates to national insurance contributions that will be repaid not this year, but next year. It is the Government's settlement for education spending for schools next year. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will continue to invest. That record of investment and expenditure, bringing about reform and results, is one to be proud of.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I proceed to the next question, may I say, gently, that the question was too long and the answer was too long? I must get through the Order Paper.

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