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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced a review of the advanced level reforms. An interim report is due by the middle of July. My right hon. Friend will then consider carefully the next steps.
Mr. Lewis: My right hon. Friend did indeed act quickly to respond to the concerns that have been expressed both by young people and by teachers about some teething problems in the implementation of the new reforms. The report is being prepared by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and an interim report will be available by the middle of July. My right hon. Friend intends to act on that report, so that we can put in place the necessary changes, where possible in time for September.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley): Many parents hope that their children will have passed their GCSEs and will go on to A-levels in the autumn. I welcome the review, but I hope that it will consider extracurricular activities for such young people, as that is an important part of their development, and examine the difficulties of trying to create a hybrid of a baccalauréat and a gold-standard A-level system.
Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the concerns that have been expressed. That is why my right hon. Friend commissioned the review, part of which will be about extra-curricular activities. We intend to make clear to schools in time for September what needs to be done to ensure that the implementation of the reforms runs far more smoothly in future.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box, but I have to tell him that parents, pupils and teachers will have been outraged by his complacent response in describing the difficulties that they have been suffering over AS-levels as "some teething problems". I can assure him that they feel that, over the past year, far from some teething problems, they have had every single tooth drawn slowly without anaesthetic. I hope that he will apologise to pupils, parents and teachers throughout the country for that remark, and join me in congratulating students and teachers on their hard work and perseverance. They now need the confidence and comfort of knowing that there will be no problems with their AS-level results. Will he guarantee that there are sufficient markers in place for the examinations and that all the results will be published on 16 August?
Mr. Lewis: How can it be complacent to commission an urgent review of AS-levels, which was my right hon. Friend's first act immediately after the general election? Many people have said in recent weeks that the principles of the A-level reforms are absolutely right. In fact, they build on proposals that first emerged in 1996, when the hon. Lady's party was in government. With regard to A-level reforms and their effect, let me quote from a couple of school principals and head teachers. Peter Newcombe, principal of Franklin college, Grimsby, said:
"Fundamentally, I think the curriculum changes are a good thing. I have seen a lot more of my pupils doing a variety of subjects."
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (John Healey): It is not for the Government to dictate how schools are organised locally. It is the duty of local education authorities to ensure that there are sufficient school places. We believe that decisions on the organisation of school places are best taken at that local level, with the knowledge of local needs.
Mr. Steen: First, may I congratulate the Minister on getting where he is? However, he can do better than that answer. Is he aware that secondary school children in my constituency are being bussed 40 miles a day? They are spending three to four hours a day in a bus because there are not sufficient school places near their homes. That is not acceptable to anyone. With 90,000 new homes being built in Devon, there will be even more bussing, which is expensive. We cannot have a bussing society such as exists in the United States. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that new schools are built before the new homes? There is no shortage of money, according to the Government. We need a system that ensures that new schools and infrastructure are in place before the new houses are built and people are allowed to live in them.
John Healey: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments, but I urge him to take this matter up with the Devon local education authority, whose school plan predicts a shortfall of secondary school places of about 2,000 by 2003-04. However, I repeat that it is not for Whitehall to work out where those school places should be provided, and I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would want that. We canand willcontribute to the funding for those new school places, as we have done since the last election. In that time, Devon LEA has received more than £96 million in capital funding.
The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): We are committed to transforming secondary education in this country. Through the forthcoming education Bill, we will be putting in place legislation to
Valerie Davey: I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his post, and thank him for his reply. In Bristol, the city council has depended on, and built on, the collaborative work of the excellence in schools initiative. However, Bristol's diverse nature has led the council to undertake a citywide review of secondary provision. Will my hon. Friend and his Department give the support and encouragement that this creative but demanding initiative requires?
Mr. Timms: We are well aware of the developments in Bristol, and are very encouraged by the steps that have been taken to achieve improvements in the way that the LEA supports its schools. We are also very heartened by the progress of Excellence in Cities in Bristol, which has been involved in that initiative since September 2000. I know that 20 secondary schools are involved. In Bristol and elsewhere, we are detecting real progress being made in dealing with some of the long-standing problems that have faced secondary schooling our cities.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new Government position. He is one of the most courteous and caring of Ministers and I wish him well. Does he accept that one of the ways to raise standards in city secondary schools in particular would be to encourage firm discipline, because in a disciplined environment young people are much more inclined to learn and to gain the benefit of good teaching? Does he believe that discipline in city secondary schools is of the utmost importance in raising standards?
Mr. Timms: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and agree that pupil behaviour is an important topic. We will address that in the White Paper, and we have taken some important steps to improve the position. This year, for example, we are providing £174 million to address poor behaviour in schools: 10 times the level of 1997. It is a matter that we will need to keep under close review.
The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): The Crown Prosecution Service will publish new policy guidance for prosecutors on domestic violence this autumn. Further to the initial consultation, there will be extensive consultation on this guidance with the police, local government, voluntary organisations and the courts, and the Attorney-General and I will be consulting on domestic violence with our ministerial colleagues
Judy Mallaber: I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on her well deserved appointment and thank her for the urgency with which she is tackling a most traumatic and difficult issue in respect of which there are still low levels of successful prosecutions. On Friday, I attended a good multi-agency conference on domestic abuse at Derbyshire police headquarters. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take account of the point made to me there, which was that although dedicated domestic abuse police officers have been created over the past six yearsencouraging the CPS to take a more proactive linethose involved are still frustrated at the cases that are dropped? In drawing up the guidance, will she urge the CPS to be prepared to use section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which allows the admission of written statements when witnesses feel that they cannot attend court because of a well founded terror of further reprisals by the perpetrators of their abuse?
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend raises a number of important issues, and I thank her for her kind comments. I wish to take this opportunity to pay the warmest of tributes to my predecessor. I hope and expect that he will continue to play an important role in this House generally, and in relation to the legal issues on which he is most expert.
My hon. Friend raises a number of issues, including the low level of prosecutions arising from domestic violence. We are not clear as to what the conviction rate is on domestic violence, the number of prosecutions that take place or the number that are discontinued half way through. The CPS is undergoing a review of the statistics, so that these issues, which are very important, can be monitored. My hon. Friend talked about the police in her county having a dedicated domestic violence officer who is responsible. That will happen also in the CPS, and will be in the guidance. The issue will be taken very seriously indeed.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I congratulate the Solicitor-General on her return to the Government and on this particular and important appointment. In welcoming the multi-agency approach that she has just described, will she confirm that she intends to liaise closely with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and to ensure thereby that the CPS is well aware of the significance of the contents of the Homelessness Bill in terms of improving the treatment of and opportunities for women who have suffered domestic violence and are at risk of losing their homes?
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There are the obvious Departments that are involved in this issue, but many others are involved, including the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills, which is concerned with
Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to her new post. Is she aware of a successful initiative employed in Sweden in which the police, when called to a domestic violence incident, immediately video the victim and any injuries that she has sustained, and the surroundings in which the incident has taken place, and then use that in court? This has increased the number of perpetrators pleading guilty and the number of convictions. Are there any plans or pilots to employ such methods here, and would that evidence be admissible in court?
The Solicitor-General: That is something that is being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service, which is working closely with the police on this issue. It is possible to use in court photographs, including videos, of any injuries that have taken place, but it is also necessary to prove how those injuries were occasioned. Those issues will be addressed in the guidance.
As hon. Members know, we must take domestic violence seriously. Yesterday, I visited the CPS in Hampshire and was told that a quarter of all the assaults in that area are domestic violence. It is an important issue and will be a priority for the CPS, working with the police.