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Alan Johnson: No, I will not, although I understand the balance of the arguments over Tomlinson. Tomlinson himself, of course, is now our diploma champion, to use a terrible term, with the education profession and he says that the report provided 90 per cent. of what he was looking for. I actually think it would be wrong—for parents, for pupils, for everyone—just to throw everything up in the air and get rid of the A-level, which has been our gold standard since the early 1950s, when we have this opportunity for children to follow such diverse routes.
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They can go down the GCSE, the A-level, the international baccalaureate or the diploma route.

Incidentally, while I have the opportunity to say so, I was giving an honest answer to an honest question. I said that diplomas are so difficult and radical that they could go badly wrong. Short of saying that introducing these diplomas will be a breeze, we have to acknowledge that it could go wrong, but we are determined that it will not, which is why we are putting considerable resources and effort into ensuring that this most radical change takes off and becomes the success that we all hope it will be.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The reference to the left-wing liberal establishment by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who I believe is a refugee from teaching, encourages me to my feet. Does the Secretary of State agree that the sort of genuinely comprehensive schools of which I am a governor—Ibstock community college and Ashby school in north-west Leicestershire—provide very high-quality education and a model for all types of local education authority? Does he further agree that it is no surprise that genuinely comprehensive LEAs outscore and outpoint parts of the country, such as Kent, Buckinghamshire and Northern Ireland, in respect of the quality of education supplied?

Alan Johnson: I agree that all-ability, non-selective schools right across the country are good schools. Some of them are comprehensive, some are academies and some are trust schools, but what we should focus on is not the terminology, but whether or not the schools are good. Where they are good schools, it is not particularly because they are labelled comprehensive or anything else, but because of good leadership, good teaching and a good ethos in the school. I accept that it is the all-ability, non-selective feature that is important, and we need to continue to hammer home the fact that that is the way forward. There are still some people harking back to a golden age, though not the Conservative party nowadays— [Interruption.] No, not the Front Benchers, and perhaps not many behind them. All our experience suggests that the sort of schools of which my hon. Friend is a governor produce astounding results year after year. We want to ensure that every school is in the same situation.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): One of the main focuses of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s secondary curriculum review appears to be to encourage schools to move away from discrete academic subjects towards more joint subject teaching and themes. The QCA’s director of curriculum thinks it would be “lovely” if the PE teacher turned up in the history lesson, and Professor John White, an external adviser to the curriculum review, believes:


Will the Secretary of State ensure that quality and rigour are maintained in our curriculum, and can he reassure the House that the revised curriculum is not
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being used as a pretext to impose a potentially damaging and untested educational fad on our schools?

Alan Johnson: It is not too difficult for me to give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. The reason why we are so keen to introduce functional skills, for instance, in English, maths and science is to ensure that we make life more difficult for ourselves by having an absolutely staunch benchmark that we can test against. As to the points that the hon. Gentleman raised, I see the views of educational theorists all the time and some of them are very interesting. I would point out that Lord Dearing made an important point in his report this week—that languages can be introduced to other subjects to make them more interesting. He made the point that it could be helpful if sports or history and geography lessons had a languages dimension.

Mr. Gibb indicated dissent.

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if it is a choice between taking advice from the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) or from Lord Dearing, I would take Lord Dearing’s.

Adult Education

4. Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of provision of adult education courses at colleges; and if he will make a statement. [127473]

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): Colleges have benefited from our 48 per cent. real-terms increase in further education funding between 1997 and 2005-06. We have realigned funding to support our priorities and, as I announced today, we have met our interim adult level 2 target, with 1 million more adults with essential employability skills in the work force since 2002. Also, more than 1.6 million learners have achieved skills for life qualifications in literacy, language and numeracy.

Julia Goldsworthy: I thank the Minister for that response. He will be aware that Cornwall has a low wage economy and very low levels of adult skills. As a result of the funding changes, Cornwall college has had 10,000 fewer applicants for adult courses this year, not only for recreational courses but for technical equipment courses and even for courses for those with learning disabilities. What assessment has the Minister made of the economic impact of the funding changes on deprived areas with low levels of skills, such as Cornwall?

Bill Rammell: We are continually evaluating the shift in adult provision to ensure that it is having the right beneficial economic effects. The train-to-gain initiative, which offers a radical commitment to ensure that every adult in the work place who does not have the equivalent of five good GCSEs gets a guarantee of that educational training, is a move in the right direction. We are increasing funding, but there is also a shift in priorities away from short courses towards longer provision that will have a more beneficial impact. I
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announced this morning that we have got 1 million more adults up to level 2 in the past five years. That is a significant achievement that will benefit the whole country, including people in Cornwall.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about more adults coming into employment. Will he also consider increasing key and basic skills training in inner-city areas such as Birmingham, where we need to offer better provision to get more lone parents re-engaged in education and back into employment?

Bill Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are absolutely right to focus on the level 2 commitment, because that is the minimum platform for sustainable employment in the work force. However, we also need to ensure that the stepping stone provision below level 2 is protected. I think that that is the kind of provision to which my hon. Friend is referring. The introduction of the foundation learning tier, which we have made clear will be guaranteed as resources become available over time, is the kind of commitment that he and his constituents are looking for.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Minister will know that Macclesfield is fortunate, in that it will shortly have a virtually new college as part of the learning zone, for which the people there are very grateful. Does he accept that there is a growing need for vocational training, particularly for adults, in order to fulfil the needs of local industry and commerce? Will he come to Macclesfield to visit the college when it opens later this year, to discuss adult education with the corporation and me?

Bill Rammell: I am happy to accept the plaudits about the capital transformation of further education colleges that is taking place up and down the country. We are spending some £500 million this year; 10 years ago, there was not a penny in the mainstream capital funding budget. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point; we need to do more in the area of vocational skills. The train-to-gain initiative, which guarantees training to adults in the work place who have not reached level 2, is an exceedingly important step forward. Diary permitting, I will see what I can do about coming to Macclesfield.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that a key recommendation of the taskforce established to deal with the consequences of the collapse of the Longbridge car factory was the creation of at least a 14-to-19 centre on the former MG Rover site, and possibly a full college relocation to boost skills and regenerate the area. A feasibility study of that recommendation should have been completed and available by now. Will my hon. Friend have a word with the local learning and skills council so that we can get on with this project, which will be vital to skills boosting and regeneration in the south-west Birmingham area?

Bill Rammell: I will happily look into that and meet my hon. Friend to discuss such issues. I remember visiting Longbridge a year or so ago, talking to the Rover taskforce—

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Mr. Speaker: Order. I know that the Minister means well, but if he looks in the hon. Gentleman’s direction when he speaks, he cannot be heard by the rest of the Chamber.

Bill Rammell: I apologise, Mr. Speaker.

I visited Longbridge about a year ago, met the Rover taskforce and was extraordinarily impressed by the cross-departmental working taking place, which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) has championed strongly. I commit myself to considering the matter and meeting him shortly.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): Seventy per cent. of the 2020 work force is over the age of 16 now, so it is vital that we upskill and reskill the adult population. Yet adult education is being savagely cut—it is down 10 per cent. in the past year and below its 1997 level. Not all such courses are on crochet and croquet: many of them lead to further study and work. Given that workplace training is also being cut, and that less than 6 per cent. of employers are involved in “train to gain”, how have the Government managed to spend so much more on FE, but achieved so little and delivered so much less?

Bill Rammell: Normally, I respect the hon. Gentleman’s views but I will not take lectures about the funding of further education colleges. Under this Government, funding has increased by 48 per cent. in real terms, which compares favourably with the 14 per cent. real-terms cut that took place in the five years up to 1997. According to its evaluation, the “train to gain” initiative, which is still in the first year of its national roll-out, is incredibly highly valued by employers, who are keen on the brokerage element. It is bringing huge numbers of people into adult education and training, and is particularly benefiting the over-45s, who are a key target group. It is in its first year of operation, it is a truly radical initiative, and it is delivering results.

ESOL Classes

5. Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on proposed changes to the funding and provision of English for speakers of other languages classes. [127474]

10. Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the proposed changes to fee remission of English for speakers of other languages courses. [127480]

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): English for speakers of other languages has been a real success, with more than 1.9 million learners since 2001. The current rate of increase, however, is unsustainable. Numbers and funding have tripled, but further increases will adversely impact on other skills for life provision. Therefore, in October I announced changes to ESOL funding involving charging those who can afford to make a contribution and excluding adult asylum seekers from access. Following representations made as part of the race equality impact assessment, however, I have made it clear in the past week that I am minded to
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consider a range of new measures, compared with the original proposals, to reprioritise funding towards the most vulnerable.

Meg Hillier: With 29 per cent. of Hackney residents having been born outside the UK, I welcome the Minister’s rethink on the issue. Of the 2,500 ESOL and life skills learners at Hackney community college, an estimated 20 per cent. would be affected by the rules. Will he meet me and representatives of Hackney community college to discuss this matter and its impact on Hackney residents?

Bill Rammell: I will happily meet my hon. Friend, as I have met many colleagues, to discuss the issue. Let me make it clear that we are not reversing the fundamental thrust of our policy on the issue. The current trajectory is simply not sustainable, and will impact on the budget for other skills for life provision unless we make changes. Under the changes, over 50 per cent.—indeed, over 80 per cent., as I understand it, in the college to which my hon. Friend referred—will continue to get access to free ESOL. As a result of the representations made, we are considering a number of other indicators to ensure that we assess low income properly and that those who genuinely cannot afford to pay continue to get free ESOL.

Martin Linton: It may be right to ask for fees from people who can clearly afford to pay, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is most important to make applying for fee remission simple? In particular, we should rely not just on working tax credit as an indicator of low pay, but on other indicators too.

Bill Rammell: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have announced in the past week that I am minded to consider a range of alternative indicators of low pay, at a local level, that would enable a person to access free ESOL. Clearly, the system must be as simple and easy to understand for the individual as possible.

Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Many people have come into this country from the new European Union states. That has put pressure on courses such as those about which we have been hearing, but also on small primary schools that are being asked to support the children of families who are new to their areas. What action is the Department taking to supply those schools with extra resources?

Bill Rammell: Additional funding streams are available for schools in those circumstances, but the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to an important issue. It is true that if the challenge of funding ESOL is to be met, we need a significant contribution from the Government—who have tripled funding over the past five years—and it is true that we need contributions from individuals, if they can afford it. However, we also need employers to meet their own responsibilities to train their work forces properly. In the context of the changes that I have announced, we are keen to address that issue, together with the CBI and the trade unions and through the social partnership.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Surely we should focus more on youngsters whose first language is not English. According to a report that I read recently, a young girl was placed with a group of three
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others who did not speak English as a first language. Everything had to be translated in that science group, and the young girl who spoke English felt that she was being held back because everything had to be translated. When she asked to be moved to another group, she was condemned for doing so. Can the Minister ensure that those who need English language teaching are given the focus they deserve so that their skills can be improved, while those who do speak English are not held back simply because attention must be focused on those who do not?

Bill Rammell: I respect the intention of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I have learned through long experience that when one starts digging, newspaper stories of the kind that he has related turn out to be far more complicated than they appear. A number of other issues tend to be involved. If the hon. Gentleman gives me the details of the case, I will examine them. However, in primary schools where there is a significant cohort of legitimate migrant communities, it is important for us to ensure through the additional funding stream that all children, regardless of circumstances and background, receive the teaching that they require.

John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): I know that the Minister shares my view of the importance of a grasp of the English language to both social inclusion and community cohesion. I had many concerns about his original proposals, but I am extremely grateful for the concessions and changes that he announced recently, which will go a long way towards allaying my concerns and those of colleagues. Nevertheless, there remains real concern about people on low incomes. Will the Minister’s door be open to representations from Members in the light of experience of the changes and particularly of their impact on people with low incomes, and will he meet my colleagues from Woolwich college to discuss the issue?

Bill Rammell: I certainly undertake to do that. In recent weeks I have met a number of colleagues to discuss the matter, because although I genuinely believe that the status quo is not an option, I also believe that we must get the changes right. I agree with my hon. Friend that if there is to be real community cohesion we must ensure that people can understand and communicate in English, and our changes are intended to give everyone that opportunity.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): This issue is not just about refugees and asylum seekers. I recently went to Kashmir with members of the Muslim community from Banbury, and as a result I appreciate that many young people who have grown up in this country still expect to enter into what we would call arranged marriages with partners from, in many cases, Kashmir. Brides who come to the United Kingdom may still not have English as a first language, and may well be joining low-income families. Is not the ability of those people—who will live here for the rest of their lives, will have children here and will become part of the community—to speak, learn and acquire English important both to community integration and to good race relations?

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Bill Rammell: I entirely agree. I think it is critical for people to live genuinely as part of communities rather than being hermetically sealed in individual areas. One of the changes that I intend to make, which I have announced in the past week, is the reprioritisation of funds at local level to provide free access to ESOL for spouses who are priority learners in hard-to-reach groups, and unlikely to have access to their own money or family benefit documentation. I believe that that will go a long way towards allaying the hon. Gentleman’s concern.

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