Previous Section Index Home Page

30 Jun 2008 : Column 579

Simon Hughes: That is a good general answer, but the Minister will know that a report published today states that we have a reduction by more than a quarter of applicants for teacher training in physics. We know that about 25 per cent. more physics teachers are already leaving the profession than are joining, that a quarter of all state schools have no qualified physics teacher, and that in the inner cities half have no such teacher. Is the only answer in the short and medium term that schools should now recruit abroad for the specialist teachers whom we need?

Jim Knight: I have seen the claims made by Professor Smithers this morning regarding the shortage of physics teachers. The combination of the higher bursary of £9,000 and a £5,000 golden hello when people start teaching will certainly help. The expansion—the doubling—of Teach First over the next five years, announced by the Prime Minister last week, will add to that. The £140 million investment in science, technology, engineering and maths, and the improvement that we are just starting to see in the take-up of physics A-level will be important. Over the medium to long term, I therefore certainly do not see it as a necessity for people to recruit physics teachers from abroad, but in the short term individual schools in local authorities will have to do what they need to do to ensure that we have the necessary specialisms in our classrooms.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): On foreign language teachers, does the Minister agree that it is not just a question of financial incentives, and that we have a much bigger cultural problem? As long as our national debate is dominated by anti-European and anti-foreigner sentiments—driven, it has to be said, by the Conservative party—there will always be a difficulty in recruiting modern foreign language teachers.

Jim Knight: We are focused on reducing the decline in language learning in secondary schools, which is why I was particularly pleased that on Thursday, we were able to publish statistics showing that the take-up of primary school pupils studying a language has gone up from 70 per cent. last year to 84 per cent. The figure was only 44 per cent. in 2002, so we are starting to make progress with younger children, who more easily take to learning a language, as part of addressing a decline over a number of years at secondary level.

Such attitudes towards Europeans and other foreigners have, I hope, been compensated for by the excellent football that we have seen in the past couple of weeks in the European championship, and by people in all our communities joining other Europeans who live among us in celebrating their various teams. I was very pleased to see the result last night.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Does the Minister accept, however, the basic premise of today’s report from the university of Buckingham on the supply of science and physics teachers, referred to by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes): that the drive in schools towards general science at the expense of the three separate sciences—biology, chemistry and physics—is the underlying cause of the 10-year decline in the numbers taking A-level physics, which have fallen from 29,000 in 1997 to 24,000 last year? Only a quarter of comprehensive
30 Jun 2008 : Column 580
schools teach the three separate sciences. Does he agree with us that every child should be entitled to study the three separate sciences to GCSE, regardless of his or her performance at key stage 3 and regardless of the idiosyncrasies of particular school governing bodies?

Jim Knight: We certainly want every child who achieves level 6 in science at key stage 3 to be able to study the three separate sciences as an entitlement, and we are working with schools with science specialisms to deliver that. I am pleased that we are beginning to see an improvement in the numbers taking and achieving A-level physics, as well as maths and further maths, which are so closely allied to the study of physics. That is reversing the long-term trend away from science. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) mentioned an anti-foreigner culture: well, there is certainly an anti-science culture in much of our media. We need to address that head on and, perhaps through the science diploma, show people the exciting routes into a range of jobs that require maths and physics. For example, if people want to design computer games, they need A-level physics.

National Schools Challenge

5. Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): How many schools in Worsley are taking part in the national schools challenge. [214254]

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): There are two schools in Worsley where fewer than 30 per cent. of pupils achieved five or more A* to C GCSE grades, including both English and mathematics, and are therefore part of the national challenge. The schools are already receiving bespoke support from the Greater Manchester challenge, which is aligned with the national challenge, to help them achieve this target by 2011 at the latest.

Barbara Keeley: Harrop Fold school in my constituency was already tackling the challenges, because attainment in maths on entry was only 24 per cent., compared with 48 per cent. in English, so it knew that it had some work to do. Under the excellent head teacher, Antony Edkins, it has had maths weekends, a weekly power hour and other super-learning days. Can the Minister assure me that the Government will do what they can to encourage and support schools in that situation as they work hard to meet the targets that have been set?

Beverley Hughes: Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the improvements being made at Harrop Fold school, thanks to the hard work of the staff, the pupils and the parents. As she said, the results for those achieving five A* to C grades have improved significantly, from 24 per cent. to 47 per cent. Improvements in English and maths are still needed, but from what I know of the school I am confident that we will see even better results this summer and beyond. Certainly the Greater Manchester challenge will provide the school with the dedicated support that it needs to continue that upward trend.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Many schools in challenging circumstances in Worsley and elsewhere are already offering students a mix of courses, including GCSEs and BTEC vocational courses.
30 Jun 2008 : Column 581
How will schools that are adopting that strategy be affected by the national schools challenge? I have concerns about that.

Beverley Hughes: We intend that the national challenge will give schools the opportunity to assess and diagnose, with expert assistance, the particular issues for each school. They will then be assisted in putting in place a package of support to address those issues. Schools that are trying to provide a wide range of options will get the support they need and BTEC courses will count as part of the challenge.

Secondary School Standards

6. Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): What plans he has to raise secondary school standards in Stockton, South constituency. [214255]

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Secondary school standards have risen since 1997 and I am pleased to say that progress in Stockton, South has exceeded national rates of progress. The national challenge programme will ensure that, by 2011, every school will have at least 30 per cent. of its pupils achieving five or more GCSEs, including English and mathematics. That will include Thornaby community school in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Ms Taylor: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s confidence and for his statement about Thornaby community school. My right hon. Friend met the school’s competent and professional head teacher and deputy head teacher. My concern is about how, and in what way, they will benefit from the challenge fund. Will parents be included in whatever support level we could see being delivered? Most particularly, will the quality of teaching supply staff be affected?

Ed Balls: I enjoyed very much our meeting with Mrs. Russell-Bond, the head teacher at Thornaby community school. The school has seen its results for those with five GCSEs go from 28 per cent. to 39 per cent. in just one year, and the number including English and maths has gone from 12 per cent. to 18 per cent. I was impressed by her commitment and drive. I am sure that the school can get there, but she also made it clear to us that it will need extra help. Our £400 million is available to provide support for schools, including specialist teaching and learning support, but that support needs to be tailored to the context of the school. That is why, in the coming months, it is important that local authorities and schools, with our Department, work hard to ensure that schools get the support they need. We have also said that governing bodies and parents should be consulted. Our aim is to ensure that schools get the support that they need so that every parent can have a good school in their local area. We will support schools to meet that challenge.

Sure Start

8. Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the progress of the Sure Start programme. [214257]

30 Jun 2008 : Column 582

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): In March this year my Department published the latest findings from our rigorous national Sure Start evaluation. The report highlighted that living in a Sure Start local programme area is associated with a number of positive outcomes. Children living in those areas exhibited more positive social behaviour and greater independence and self-regulation, while parents made greater use of support services, exhibited less negative parenting and provided a better home learning environment.

Mr. Holloway: Some childminders say that they want to provide home from home care but that they do not want to get completely bogged down in paperwork. What would the Minister say to them about that?

Beverley Hughes: That is rather remote from a question on Sure Start programmes, but none the less I shall try to make the links for the hon. Gentleman. It is very important that whatever setting a child is in—whether they are with a childminder, in a Sure Start centre, in a nursery, in a maintained school or in the reception class—parents and children can be assured of the highest- quality provision. That is why, through the early years foundation stage and a number of other measures, which include a great deal more training for childminders and the establishment of local childminding networks, we are supporting all childminders in doing what the best childminders are already doing—providing a caring but positive learning environment for young children.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): With new children’s centres shortly opening in my constituency, may I say how much I welcome the Government’s investment in Sure Start, even though, sadly, the Conservative local authority is always quick to claim the credit for the investment from the Government? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the mainstreaming of Sure Start, although it is to be welcomed in many ways, has led to some concern about a marginalisation of the role of the voluntary sector and parents? Will she look again at the guidance to local authorities on Sure Start to ensure that parents and voluntary organisations are in the leading position and are steering Sure Start delivery?

Beverley Hughes: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is quite right about some Conservative councillors. Indeed, some Conservative Members are still rather ambivalent about Sure Start. I was hoping to get the opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) for the praise for Sure Start on his website, which I welcome very much. As my hon. Friend said, some councils are quick to claim the credit although they are not necessarily supportive in practice.

I have made it clear that I want all local authorities to work closely with the voluntary sector. I am pleased to say that about 74 per cent. of children’s centres involve the voluntary sector in some way. We think that about 58 per cent. of centres have their child care provision run by the voluntary sector. Some local authorities, at least, are paying heed to that. I want to see more, because I think that the voluntary sector has an important role to play.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Sure Start should be uniquely placed to help to support our country’s most deprived children. That is why the Opposition
30 Jun 2008 : Column 583
support it. The Government’s new departmental report, which perhaps has slightly more up-to-date information than that referred to by the Minister, shows that after spending £10 billion they have completely failed to reduce the achievement gap endured by children in the most deprived areas. Does the Minister not agree that Sure Start has to start delivering for the families and children who are most in need? Will she start by agreeing that outreach should be led by health visitors and reverse her announcement about cutting outreach levels in the most deprived areas by a third?

Beverley Hughes: We have been around this course before with the hon. Lady, and she is completely wrong. We have doubled the funding to ensure that in disadvantaged areas there will be two outreach workers in every children’s centre. We are also revising and publishing guidance, because there is a great lack of clarity about what outreach should be and how best to provide it. Some health visitors provide it very well, but there is a role for other people to do that outreach work, particularly in the voluntary sector, as I have said. For many families—and particularly people who do not find it easy initially to take up services or be associated with them—there is less stigma attached to a voluntary sector worker visiting their home and trying to encourage them to join in.

We are absolutely determined that the Sure Start programme should make the most difference to the most disadvantaged children. That is why we have given local authorities the duty to close the gap to which the hon. Lady referred. I hope that she will support us when we ask local authorities to collect data on what is happening with young children, to support the early years foundation stage. That is how we will make the necessary difference for the most disadvantaged children.

Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on the improvements that are clearly coming through as a result of Sure Start. Does she agree that much of that improvement is down to more systematic and rigorous intervention with the most disadvantaged, so that they are brought to a level at which they really do stand a chance? Will she perhaps outline to the House just how the Government intend to develop that progress and roll it out in future?

Beverley Hughes: I agree completely with my right hon. Friend, who has done much to promote services for the youngest children, children generally and families. The Sure Start programme is just one of an array of measures. As she rightly says, the focus has to be on early intervention and prevention, so that we not only provide an excellent quality of environment for the child, but work closely with parents to help them improve their parenting skills—that includes fathers as well as mothers. Those are all ways in which we want to develop the Sure Start programme progressively over time, making sure that quality, outreach, support for parents and improving parenting skills are part of an early intervention approach.


9. Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): What plans he has to increase provision for singing in schools. [214258]

30 Jun 2008 : Column 584

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan) rose—

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): He is going to sing the answer.

Kevin Brennan: I will turn down the hon. Gentleman’s invitation.

We want all children of primary school age to have the opportunity to engage in quality singing, and we are investing £40 million in Sing Up, the national singing programme spearheaded by Howard Goodall, our singing ambassador. Our aim is that by 2011 singing will be an integral part of the culture of every primary school in the country. Since the launch in November, 17,000 adults have received training directly through Sing Up, some 10,000 schools have signed up to the Sing Up website, which already contains more than 150 songs, and 100,000 children have experienced singing activity. I recommend the programme’s magazine to Opposition Members. This morning, we were happy to greet pupils of St. Matthew’s primary school, Westminster, who sang for us in the Department on our first birthday.

Mr. Flello: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. In Stoke-on-Trent, City Songbirds does a fantastic job, working with more than 500 young people across 24 schools. It uses song to help children develop key skills such as listening and self-confidence, as well as giving them the opportunity to use their voices and show their talent. Will my right hon. and hon. Friends join me in congratulating Stoke-on-Trent city council—it is unusual for me to say that—on its work with City Songbirds, as well as the City Songbirds’ hard-working staff and dedicated volunteers, and indeed the songbirds themselves?

Kevin Brennan: Yes, I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate everybody in Stoke who works on the project. I know that my hon. Friend recently attended a concert given by City Songbirds, which is a locally funded programme. We very much hope that the national Sing Up programme that I mentioned will help to maintain and build on the momentum behind singing in Stoke’s schools. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish my daughter good luck in her school musical tonight.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Well done to the Minister. On Saturday night I attended a concert organised by the Macclesfield and district lions club, in aid of the Stroke Association and SightFirst, the club’s own charity. Part of the programme was presented by the young children of the Prestbury Church of England primary school. They were wonderful. Young boys and girls came together to sing in the most delightful way. The programme was hugely well received by the big audience. What is the Minister doing to ensure that there are enough music and singing teachers available to ensure that standard of singing and music, which is so important?

Kevin Brennan: I presume that they sang “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” if they sang in the most delightful way, as the hon. Gentleman said. We are investing £332 million in music education from 2007 to
30 Jun 2008 : Column 585
2011, including £40 million specifically for the Sing Up programme, which includes the training of teachers to help children to learn and experience the joys of singing.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I have the privilege of serving as the president of the Coalville festival of music, which every year organises a competition, including a category for school choirs, which Hugglescote school won this year. Is that not a way ahead: to encourage more competition in the locality to produce more singers at primary school level? For an appropriate answer to my question, I am quite happy to provide the Minister with a tenor.

Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend and I do not always sing from the same song sheet, but—

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): You are in harmony.

Kevin Brennan: On this occasion we are in harmony, as the hon. Gentleman says.

I agree that competition has its place, but it is not the only thing that we should worry about. Coming from south Wales as I do, I might add that the Eisteddfod provides a good model; perhaps it could be copied more in England.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I welcome the Minister’s encouraging words and invite him to congratulate Havering music school, which nurtures musical talent among the borough’s pupils, on including the category of voice in its annual competition, so that singers have an equal chance with players of musical instruments to become Havering musician of the year.

Kevin Brennan: That is a wonderful initiative, and I will not try the House’s patience any further with more puns.

Next Section Index Home Page