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Noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for giving me a plethora of questions to attempt to answer; I shall certainly try to do so. I hope that, buried beneath their comments, was a welcome for some of my comments on our commitment to schools and education.

I shall not dwell on my question and answer session with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the Chancellor's words; I have already dealt with that as far as I can. It is perfectly clear in my mind; I feel that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, would say the same, were she here. Equally, I shall say little about higher education. I appreciate that noble Lords are keen for me to say as much as possible about that but, as my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made clear, we shall be making a major announcement in January, which we shall of course debate in your Lordships' House. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was clear in what he said and we of course support his words.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, mentioned nursery grants and ensuring that the Government would not stop paying for all three year-olds. That commitment is absolutely firm. We are giving that money to local authorities. They will be able to continue with their own plans. It is an aspiration that some of them may be able to achieve universal support for three year-olds in nursery education earlier, but we are in no way abandoning nursery education for our three and four year-olds. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that that is an important beginning for our youngest children.

I do not know what are the consequences for civil servants. We are proud of our civil servants in the Department for Education and Skills. Personally, I should hate to lose any of them, but we have made clear that part of this announcement is about ensuring that money is devolved from the DfES to local education authorities and schools—something for which noble Lords have argued for some time.

We do not accept that the literacy and numeracy strategy is flawed; we accept that we need to do more to support schools that are not achieving with their children what other schools are achieving in similar circumstances. That is an important part of our strategy.

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Both noble Baronesses asked about the leadership incentive grant. As I said in the Statement, we shall be using it to support 1,400 schools, and I mentioned the need for schools to work closely together. We want to ensure that there is the opportunity to provide the one thing that we know can make a difference—that, as noble Lords will be aware, has transformed schools—quality of leadership. We therefore want to give support to the head teachers and leadership team of schools that face challenging circumstances.

Reserved powers will not be used to force schools to buy services from school companies; that is not their purpose. For pensions, there will be a separate grant to cover employer contributions. I did not want to announce that and, therefore, possibly be accused of putting it in as a separate figure. I hope that that will answer the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Seccombe.

It is not a question of the Government interfering in the negotiations between the unions and the employers, but I believe that what we have said about changes in the workforce and the strategy that we have for that is right: it is important that we have the right kind of workforce. In your Lordships' House, we have talked for some time about the need to ensure that we engage with adults who can contribute and have contributed in schools. We must ensure that teachers can teach and that there are adults available to support them in that role by taking on some of the other tasks and challenges that teachers face.

I shall answer the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked: I think that a three-year budget is important for long-term planning. I cannot answer her question about the 7 per cent PFI capital. It was an interesting question, and I shall write to the noble Baroness with specific details about that, unless something wings its way to me in the mean time.

We have created a 3 million partnership fund for specialist schools. The fund is to support schools that are having difficulty in finding the 50,000. The fund will provide the full amount or part of the amount. We will look for a demonstration that schools have contributed to improvement, growth and development in the community, which is part of what we are trying to achieve with specialist school status, and have sought to involve people in that work, including the securing of financial contributions. The money is there to address the specific points that the noble Baroness raised.

Substantial increases in education funding for local authorities have already been provided for in the spending review. I said in the Statement that there would be 4.3 billion more by 2005–06 before any transfer of DfES grant to local authorities. On top of that, the department is transferring 500 million from grant in 2003–04 and 2004–05 and a total of 1,340 million from grant to local authorities in 2005–06. By 2005–06, schools and LEAs will get 5.5 billion more than in 2002–03. To me, if to nobody else, that sounds like an increase.

There is no change in the position on the threshold for 2003–04 to 2004–05. Every teacher will be covered in a per capita payment. In 2005–06, we will transfer

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that payment into local funding, as part of the general commitment to reduce ring-fencing. However, on the basis of rising budgets, we are confident that, with our partners, we can find ways to ensure that resources are available. I hope that that addresses that point for the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I will, of course, write to noble Lords on any points that I have failed to address.

4.43 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I apologise for leaping to my feet so enthusiastically—and prematurely.

The increased funding set out in the Statement is welcome. I have just come from a meeting of a school governing body, at which we assessed the performance of the head. I want to raise two issues that have been covered already, as I want to talk more about them: one is about leadership and the other is about nursery education.

Leadership is crucial to the formation of a good school, particularly if the school works in difficult circumstances. Can my noble friend say a little about the role of OFSTED and other inspectors and the role of governing bodies in developing and ensuring good leadership?

Guaranteed nursery education is also crucial. I thought that the Government had made their policy on it absolutely clear. How will schools, particularly in the early years, link with other bodies in local inter-sectoral initiatives to support children such as the Department of Health's children's trusts?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, OFSTED plays an important role in determining how effective the leadership of the school is. I believe that I have visited the school to which my noble friend referred. I was very impressed by the quality of leadership from the head teacher. I hesitate to mention the chair of the governing body because I believe that my noble friend is chair of the governing body; I might be accused of sucking up to her, which I would not wish to be seen to do. The role of the governing body is essential, as noble Lords will be aware.

I am grateful to my noble friend for saying that we have made our position on nursery education clear. Collaborative working—of which children's trusts and children's centres are a good example—is part of the reason why I have been created a joint Minister for the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions. As we develop our budgets, we want to ensure that local authorities can use the moneys appropriately—particularly in the early years—to support our children. That is part of the reason for the reduction of ring-fencing. Children's trusts, which are being developed by my honourable friend Jacqui Smith at the Department of Health, are designed to develop the process of bringing health, education and social services together to support children and families. It is important that our budgets reflect that.

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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I refer to the latter part of the Statement, in which the noble Baroness mentioned the learning and skills councils. It was my privilege to visit, a few days ago, the Building Crafts College. It is based in Stratford in east London and provides expert training in woodwork and masonry to a fair number of young people and some adult returners at a high standard of skill.

It is a small college, and it was strongly represented to me that the college is deeply apprehensive that, under the new arrangements for the learning and skills councils and for funding that the noble Baroness announced, it will be difficult for small, specialist colleges to get a fair crack of the whip. I hope that the noble Baroness will utter some reassuring words that I could draw to the attention of that college.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, with great pleasure, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, that I can offer him reassurance. We would have failed in our endeavours if, as a result of what we are trying to do, small, specialist colleges offering high-quality training to students were to suffer in any way. That is not what we are trying to achieve—quite the opposite. I hope that the noble Lord will take that message back. If he chooses to write to me, I shall pass the matter on to my appropriate colleague.


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