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Further Education Funding

3. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): If he will make a statement on funding for local colleges. [169206]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Alan Johnson): In November 2002, we announced an extra £1.2 billion of investment in
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further education colleges over the three years to 2005–06. That record investment means that total funding for further education is set to rise by 19 per cent. in real terms when compared with 2002–03. That is the largest ever investment in further education to support a radical and ambitious reform strategy that links funding to college performance.

Tony Baldry : People often think that Banbury is a very prosperous town, but in at least two wards. more than half the adults have no further or higher education qualifications. Given the Minister's answer, I do not understand why the Association of Colleges has expressed concern that colleges have had to dip into their reserves to the tune of £62 million for skills and vocational training this year, because they have received only some £20 million from the Department. How is it that every Member has heard concerns from local college principals and the Association of Colleges that they have been short-changed on money for skills and vocational training?

Alan Johnson: I am also puzzled by those remarks by the AOC. We meet that organisation regularly and it is appreciative of the additional investment, although—like any lobby group—it continues to seek more funding. Perhaps some of the problems have been with how the allocation of funding reaches the colleges through the learning and skills councils. The new chief executive, Mark Haysom, is aware of some of those problems, but I am willing to investigate specific problems in the hon. Gentleman's constituency to see whether I can do anything to help.

Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab): My local college—Redbridge college, of which I am an external governor—is very pleased with the extra investment from the Government, but it is having problems obtaining the payment in full of £250,000 of funding from last year. It received 30 per cent. in April, having been promised 60 per cent. in March, and it has been promised the rest by the end of May. Will my right hon. Friend investigate the delay in that funding?

Alan Johnson: I certainly will investigate the point raised by my hon. Friend, which might relate to the point that I made to the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). To put the issue in context again, we have increased funding for teaching and learning in FE colleges by 17 per cent. and funded a 60 per cent. real increase in capital spending in colleges. Almost anyone one speaks to in the FE sector will agree that, with 4 million students and a further 2 million reached in the workplace, it has been somewhat undervalued in the past. The sector would like the increased funding to continue, but it appreciates that funding for FE colleges has turned a significant corner.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): One of the interesting things about the answers that the Minister gave to both the previous questions on this topic is the disparity between his view and what is actually happening. It is clear that one of the essential roles of—and an apparent Government priority for—the FE sector and local colleges is the provision of basic skills and level 2 courses. Why then are the Government
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enabling cuts to take place in the FE sector, just as adults needing help are being turned away from literacy and numeracy classes—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) seems very annoyed that I have not called him. It is my right to decide whom to call, and he must not stare at me as if he has been deeply hurt by my decision. That is the last thing that he should do.

Mr. Simmonds: Basic skills provision is also being axed. As I am sure the Minister would agree, such courses are essential for people who are trying to escape socio-economic deprivation. Will he assure the House that the threatened cuts in places of more than 70,000 that the Association of Colleges predicts this year will not materialise? Will he assure us that he will endeavour to deliver basic skills to all who need them?

Alan Johnson: I was in the hon. Gentleman's constituency at a very exciting and well attended initiative. He received many plaudits, and I am pleased that he did. His local college was extremely appreciative of the extra funding provided.

I think that we are talking about two different things. The Association of Colleges is concerned that, in the next financial year when the level 2 entitlement kicks in, we will not be able to meet every claim for every piece of further education training in the country in the way that we did last year. Last year, every bid made to the Learning and Skills Council was accepted. The reason for the concern is that we have to have priorities and the 4 million adults who do not even have a basic level 2 qualification must be our priority. That is why we are going to give them financial help and an adult learning grant to meet that priority. If that we means that we cannot meet every single claim, we will have to accept that in the interests of meeting that priority. Nevertheless, literary and numeracy are what the issue is all about. We will strive, as always, to ensure that all the claims are met.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Socialism is the language of priorities.

Alan Johnson: As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggests, new Labour is the language of priorities.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his answer to the initial question. On Monday, I spent the morning at Scarborough sixth-form college and saw at first hand the excellent work that is being done. However, the college stands alone and it competes with many sixth forms in the surrounding local education authority area. Students and staff alike asserted to me that there was a gap in terms of the money that was being spent in the college. May I tempt my right hon. Friend to make the short trip from Hull to Scarborough to see the excellent work that the college is doing and perhaps persuade him that we need to give greater consideration to the inequalities between LEA sixth forms and stand-alone sixth forms such as at Scarborough sixth-form college?

Alan Johnson: I will gladly make the short trip to Scarborough to see my hon. Friend. We are aware of
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those issues and, in this funding round, the funding gap between sixth forms and further education colleges has closed considerably. It is always a delight to see him, particularly in his delightful constituency.

Schools (Appropriate Relations Guidance)

4. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What guidance he provides to schools on maintaining appropriate relations between pupils and staff. [169207]

The Minister for Children (Margaret Hodge): We have worked with the teachers unions and with the National Employers Organisation of School Teachers to produce a document entitled "Joint NEOST/Teacher Union Guidance on Preventing Abuse of Trust for Teachers, Education Staff and Volunteers". We have also funded further work to produce further advice entitled "Developing Safe Working Practices for the Protection of Children and Staff in Educational Settings".

Miss McIntosh : Is the right hon. Lady aware of the number of disturbing cases that I have raised with the Secretary of State about bullying between pupils and inappropriate relationships between staff and pupils in certain schools that are in or serve the Vale of York? Has the guidance to which she refers been published and, if schools have similar guidance, is it not appropriate for parents to have sight of it?

Margaret Hodge: It is certainly appropriate for parents to have sight of it. The hon. Lady raised the issue of bullying between pupils and I hope that she appreciates the concentrated work that we—in particular, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis)—have been doing to try to tackle the problem and to create zero tolerance for bullying in our schools. If she wishes to raise further issues with us in relation to bullying between pupils and teachers, I would warmly welcome further consideration of those issues so that we can take any further action that she would deem appropriate.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): Is it not essential that the relationship between pupils and staff involves good order and discipline in the classroom? Because good discipline and learning can be disrupted by a small number of highly disruptive pupils, is it not essential that we have good provision of pupil referral units throughout the country for children of all ages? Will she undertake an audit of pupil referral unit provision and take action to fill the gaps? At the moment, there appears to be a bit of a postcode lottery and, surely, we do not want postcode disruption in our schools.

Margaret Hodge: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's comments about the importance of good order in the classroom so that effective teaching and learning can take place. How that is developed is down to each local authority and the schools within it. The use made of pupil referral units must be decided locally. There are good pupil referral units around the country. I visited a project yesterday in Oxford that is run by a voluntary organisation called Parent-School Links, which takes sound action to improve the behaviour of children in
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schools and to tackle the behaviour between children and parents and between children and teachers. Such small initiatives, run by valuable voluntary organisations, should be spread across the country. That is the key to improving behaviour in the classroom.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Taking on the valid point made by the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), is not the real problem the fact that there are no longer proper sanctions in schools and that, when teachers try to exercise reasonable discipline, they are frequently pursued by litigious parents who have a perverted idea of human rights?

Margaret Hodge: I do not agree. We have strengthened the power of head teachers to apply appropriate sanctions in schools. The hon. Gentleman would probably agree that we live in more litigious times and people exercise their rights, rightly or wrongly, in all sorts of situations. I do not agree with his premise that we have weakened the power of heads. We have gone in quite the opposite direction.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (Con): Does the Minister agree that, with reference to appropriate relations between pupils and staff, the overwhelming majority of teachers get it right 100 per cent. of the time, and they deserve both our thanks and a presumption of trust? Will she confirm that more than 80 per cent. of teachers who are accused of having behaved inappropriately are subsequently entirely cleared and vindicated? Will she therefore accept that now is the time to act on the NASUWT campaign for legislation to preserve teacher anonymity up until the point of a conviction? Will she undertake to accept the offer from the Opposition to speed the passage of such legislation through both Houses of Parliament, or will it take the election of a Conservative Government to give teachers that essential protection?

Margaret Hodge: I am not sure that there is a single child or parent with an interest in the education service who would welcome the transfer of power to the Tory party. Its record in government on education was abysmal and our record in government has been second to none, with increased investment, rising standards and a massive extension of opportunity. On the specific issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, we believe there must be a conversation with the NASUWT and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is engaged in those discussions. We will look further at the issues that the union has legitimately raised and take the action that we deem appropriate.

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