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Over-subscribed Primary Schools

2. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): What additional assistance she plans to give to education authorities to accommodate demand for places in individual primary schools which are heavily over-subscribed. [64396]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): The planning of school places is a local matter. However, the Government want popular schools to be able to expand, which is why the Education Bill makes a promise to schools that they themselves will be able to make proposals to offer more places.

Roger Casale: I thank the Minister for that reply and declare an interest: I have two young daughters, one of whom is applying for a reception place in a Merton school. I welcome the plans for reform, but they will give little comfort this year to parents applying for Hollymount school in my constituency, where there have been 80 applications for 30 places, or Pelham school, which is also over-subscribed. Will my hon. Friend work with the local authority in Merton to see whether anything can be done to alleviate pressures on individual schools in respect of this year, so that parents do not have to take their children up to two miles outside their local community to go to school?

In addition to the extra money and his reforms, will my hon. Friend also ensure that—in practice as well as in theory—it is parents and not local education authorities who determine where our children go to school?

Mr. Miliband: I am glad to say that the Government are already working with Merton LEA. My hon. Friend will know that £5 million has been given to Merton as part of the class size initiative, which has helped to hire 105 teachers and create 21 new classrooms. The capital projects that the Department is sponsoring will include the

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specific requirement that we take account of increasing places in popular schools. There is a partnership in that regard, and we can work on it.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): The Minister says that this matter is determined by local people, but when does he expect to respond to the Government's consultation paper of last year on school admissions? Has he also had a chance to read what the Leader of the House said during last week's business questions? He said:

The comment related to Ecclesbourne school, whose governors agreed to change the catchment area. The change was supported by Derbyshire county council and Derby city council, but was overruled by the school adjudicator, who had never even visited the area. How does that constitute determination by local people?

Mr. Miliband: We are studying the responses to the consultation, and we shall ourselves respond in due course. I am not familiar with the individual case that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but I should point out that the adjudicator is an independent person, and that for the adjudicator to become involved, there must have been local objections to the plan.

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): The success of the Government's development of brownfield sites means that—certainly in the case of Bristol—more families are now living in cities. Is inner-city development a factor in the long-term planning of the Department for Education and Skills?

Mr. Miliband: Obviously, the Department, along with LEAs, has to take a medium-term view of capital needs; that is the purpose of the asset management plans that every local authority has. On that basis, we can plan with some confidence for the demographic changes ahead.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Is it right that the lack of funding in Bovey Tracey, in Devon, should result in its not having a new school? Parents will have to transport their children to outlying developments some two or three miles away. In Shaldon, which is in desperate need of a new school hall, children have to be walked along a main road to their daily assembly and classes.

Mr. Miliband: I am afraid that I cannot comment on those individual cases, but I do know that in the near future the Government will consult on local funding plans, and that the needs of rural schools will be taken into account.

Further Education

3. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Pursuant to her answer of 29 April 2002, Official Report, column 579W, to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), what monitoring systems she has put in place to measure the effect of the additional funding for the FE sector on recruitment and retention of staff. [64398]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Research on the implementation of the teaching pay initiative in further education colleges shows that it has been used to support the recruitment of new teachers in skill shortage areas. It has also enabled colleges to convert casual staff into permanent salaried employees.

Mr. Prentice: That is all right so far as it goes, but how can we justify the huge pay gap that is opening up between FE lecturers and secondary school teachers? Will the Minister address a particular problem in my own constituency, where the only sixth-form provision is in Nelson and Colne college? Such students are receiving about £1,000 less in the way of resources than if my constituency had a sixth-form secondary school. That position is not sustainable and cannot possibly be justified.

Mr. Lewis: The Government's policy is to close the gap between funding for colleges and for schools, but the reason for the size of that gap is the massive extra investment that we have put into schools in the past five years. We are implementing a wide variety of initiatives to ensure that a recruitment and retention problem in FE does not arise. In addition to the teaching pay initiative, golden hellos will be introduced from the autumn, and we intend to pay off the student loans of new teachers in shortage subject areas. I should also point out that total FE funding has risen by 26 per cent. since 1997. We accept the need to tackle the gap, but we have put significant extra resources into FE.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I listened carefully to that reply. Will the Minister say whether strong representations have been made to the Treasury to ensure that the comprehensive spending review will address in the coming year the problem of the funding difference that exists for pupils aged over 16 and for those who have left school? Only further education colleges can cater for the latter. The Minister must know the frustration that is felt by the principals of FE colleges, who we all know do good work. However, they feel that their hands are tied behind their backs and that the work that they could do providing access to education for older pupils especially will be hampered until there is significant movement towards establishing parity between schools, post-16 education and FE colleges.

Mr. Lewis: It is not for me to disclose details of the Department's submission to the Treasury for the comprehensive spending review—at least, not if I want to remain in my post for much longer.

Of course, we recognise the central role played by further education in achieving our economic and social objectives. That has to be in the context of the reform agenda for further education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined that a couple of weeks ago. The "Success for All" document dealt with reforming further education, and we have combined that reform with investment.

The matter is not simply about closing the gap between further education and school funding. We must also raise standards in the FE sector, and the Government must contribute by making significant additional investment.

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Higher Education

4. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): What steps she is taking to increase numbers of students in higher education. [64399]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): By 2010, we want 50 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds to participate in higher education. We are particularly keen to encourage greater participation among lower socio-economic and other under-represented groups. The "Excellence Challenge" programme and the AimHigher roadshows are major initiatives funded by the Government to encourage that to happen.

Ms Drown: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will she congratulate the university of Bath on its work in Swindon? In two years, it has got 2,500 students into higher education. There are plans to expand that number to 8,000 in seven years, and that will help us to meet some of the skills shortages that exist in the town. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look favourably on bids arriving at her desk so that we can meet that expansion target? That expansion will improve vastly the opportunities open to people in Swindon, and help the Government achieve their target of getting 50 per cent. of 18 to 30-year-olds into higher education.

Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education has visited Bath university and is full of praise for it. The university has an excellent reputation, and I applaud it for extending its work to include recruiting more students. The final decision about extra places is one for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, as my hon. Friend will know. However, I am sure that she will be pleased that the Government's plans to fund extra places next year may well mean—who knows?—that extra places will go to Bath university.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): Bearing in mind her speech of last week, will the Secretary of State consider how much damage to the prospects of children from poor backgrounds entering higher education has been done over the years by failed socialist educational theory and policy, which she now spends her time apologising for? Will she ask the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education to stop berating universities and start trusting them to want the brightest and best from any background to benefit from higher education? The Government should focus on helping schools ensure that there is a stronger and appropriately qualified group of students from non-traditional backgrounds ready to benefit from higher education.

Finally, will she deny that there are plans to penalise, financially and deliberately, those universities that are unable to comply with the personal assessment of the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education of what their socio-economic mix should be?

Estelle Morris: The matter is more important than that cheap jibe suggests. Historically, our nation has never managed to break the link between poverty and educational attainment. That has never been achieved by either Labour or Tory Governments in the past. However, I applaud the work of many teachers and schools—and a

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lot of the schools to which I refer are very good inner-city comprehensives—in raising standards. They are enabling children to be the first generation in their families to go into higher education.

I have greater aspirations for our children, and we are nowhere near achieving them. We must use the strongest language to make our society understand that Britain is the only nation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that retains a link between background and educational attainment. This Government are doing more than any other in that respect. The "Excellence Challenge" and "Excellence in Cities" programmes mean that children in years 11 and 12 from a third of urban schools this summer will have the opportunity to visit a university and talk to staff.

We do not have all the answers. This is about raising attainment rates at 16 and 18, and making sure that working class children feel that they can make the link between school and university. We are doing that; the Tory Government did not.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have had a letter from a head teacher, too? She told me that she was thanking the Labour Government for all the money that has been put in. I have to tell her something else as well. I listened this morning to that creeping Jesus from the Liberal party—[Laughter]—but one thing makes me sick—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That language will not do. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that remark.

Mr. Skinner: Creeping; I withdraw creeping.

Estelle Morris: I am grateful for the support from the head teacher in my hon. Friend's constituency. I should be grateful if he would pass on my thanks and best wishes for the work that she does at the school and that other schools do in Bolsover.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): One of the important issues about participation in higher education is student finance. Last year the Government commissioned a review of student finance. When will we get the results?

Estelle Morris: In due course—when the review is ready. We rightly agreed to look at student finance and we will announce our findings. The figures do not support what I think the hon. Gentleman was implying. Last year there was more than a 5 per cent. increase in the number of students going to university—far greater than, for example, in Scotland where changes were made to how people pay fees. We will report in due course, but getting people from poorer backgrounds to university needs to be tackled on many levels.

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