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Written Statements

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 20 May 2003

Environment, Food And Rural Affairs

Pesticides Safety Directorate

I have set PSD the following agreed outcomes and performance targets for 2003–04 for those regulatory and policy functions it delivers on behalf of the Department, for pesticides:PESTICIDE EVALUATIONS

To deliver high-quality scientific work to underpin the safe use of pesticides four people and the environment.
To complete pesticide approval applications to time (90 per cent. within published processing times) and cost.
Reducing negative impacts from pesticides.
To develop and publish a National Pesticides Strategy to take forward sustainable pesticide use, including alternative control measures and consideration of use reduction policies.
To define data requirements and provide guidance to applicants on biological pesticides.

UK INTERESTS AND OUR POSITION IN EUROPE

To secure UK's interests in negotiations on the revision of Council Directive 91/414/EEC and the revision and consolidation of the MRL Directives.
To deliver EU funded projects to the satisfaction of the European Commission and the Twinning / Partners' contract.

MONITORING

To carry out a surveillance programme, monitoring the UK food and drink supply for pesticide residues.
To investigate reported wildlife incidents and take forward a proactive monitoring scheme.

COMMUNICATION WITH OUR STAKEHOLDERS

To establish a baseline for public awareness.

FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE

To recover the full economic cost (as calculated according to resource accounting principles) of our services from industry and DEFRA.
To deliver efficiency savings of 3 per cent.

Work And Pensions

Housing Benefit And Antisocial Behaviour

The Government sympathise with those who question whether it is right for the State to support the housing costs of people whose behaviour brings misery to the lives of individuals and communities. The Government strongly believe in the principle of a welfare state based on rights and responsibilities. The rights we gain from civil society—including the right to financial support when we need it—should be balanced by our duty to behave responsibly towards our fellow citizens.A Housing Benefit sanction could provide a workable measure that will act as a deterrent and can be applied swiftly and fairly in response to such behaviour.We are aware that for any system of sanctions to be workable and effective it must draw on the experience of local authorities, landlords, and other agencies supporting local communities' efforts to address antisocial behaviour and local people themselves. I am therefore today writing to local authorities and other bodies to consult them on proposals to use Housing Benefit sanctions to tackle antisocial behaviour.Copies of the consultation paper will be placed in the Library. We will also be consulting directly with the victims of this objectionable behaviour.

Home Department

Foreign Nationals

The application forms for foreign nationals wishing to apply for leave to remain in the United Kingdom are reviewed regularly. The current forms are now being revised to reflect the latest immigration rules and other relevant changes. The revision should be completed before 31 July 2003. The existing forms (versions 05/2003) may continue to be used for applications made on or before that date.

Education And Skills

Primary Education

I am publishing a document today that sets out the Government's vision for primary education. Copies of the document have been placed in the Library.Our primary schools are a success story. The best are the best in the world. We now want to build on this success. "Excellence and Enjoyment—A Strategy for Primary Schools" outlines our vision for offering every child the life chances they deserve.I believe that the key to success is the achievement of high standards through a varied, rich and exciting curriculum. This powerful mix of excellent teaching, high standards and enjoyment excites, engages and challenges children and shows them what they can do.I do not believe that there is any conflict whatsoever between rigorous high standards and engaging, creative teaching. Outstanding schools up and down the country already combine the two. Testing, targets and tables are tools that support excellence.

Tests for every child mean that teachers and parents can track the progress of every single child. They help to identify those pupils that need extra support as well as those who need to be stretched and given more advanced work. No child should be overlooked—every child matters.

Targets show what we need to achieve, provide clear focus and provide an important means of measuring progress and improvement. Every organisation that wants to succeed sets themselves goals and targets. And we want schools to succeed. Our target that 85 per cent. of children should reach the expected level—Level 4—at the age of 11, as soon as possible, is based on good evidence about children's performance and about the value schools add. It is a challenging target but it's right to give these chances to as many children as possible.

Performance tables—particularly now that value added measures have been introduced—enable all of us to assess the performance of individual schools and to look at where schools have made a real difference to the learning of our children. They give solid proof and real recognition of what teachers are achieving. As part of a wide range of relevant information, they help parents choosing schools for their children. Easy-to-use information must continue to be available to everyone, not only to a privileged few.

But though tests, targets and tables are here to stay, I have said that I am willing to listen to sensible suggestions about how they might be improved still further.

I have listened to the concerns of the primary headteachers who told me that they had set targets for their schools, based on what they know about their children, and on high aspirations for stretching them, only to be asked to set them again because they did not add up to the right number In future, the target-setting process will begin with schools themselves, and LEA targets will be set afterwards. Schools will set targets based on what they know about individual children's abilities, but also on high aspirations for the value they themselves can add. We want schools to aim to add more value each year. We also want them to look at the performance of other schools in similar circumstances. It is through stretching but realistic targets like these, focused on children, that real improvement will come.

I have also listened to concerns about testing and key stage 1. I believe that robust assessment is a vital learning and teaching tool. I do not accept that the sort of tests and tasks that children are set at key stage 1 are too stressful for children to do. They are similar to the sort of tasks and tests that teachers set anyway—for example, a spelling test, or a task where pupils read to the teacher. But we are prepared to look at the way these tests and tasks are used. We will trial an approach in which tests and tasks underpin teacher assessment, rather than being reported separately. We will use the trial to assess whether this approach gives results that are really robust and comparable; and to consider the effect on workload.

Thirdly, I have listened to comments about the reporting of the achievements of children with special educational needs. My first priority is to make sure that value-added measures recognise the achievements of all children—including those working below the level of the tests. And I am also prepared to consider ways in which schools' broader achievements can be reflected better in performance tables.

As well as outlining these changes, the document I am publishing today sets out how we will support schools in taking more control of their own improvement, and in providing children with a broad, rich curriculum. In particular, our new Primary Strategy, which will support teachers not just in literacy and numeracy but across the whole curriculum, will be increasingly focused on tailored support designed by schools themselves. There will still be challenge for schools that are underperforming compared to others in similar circumstances, based on tried and tested approaches, but where schools are performing well we want to help them drive their own improvement still further.

The document also outlines the support that will be offered to schools in meeting individual children's needs more closely; in working with parents and the community; in supporting positive behaviour, and managing challenging behaviour, in developing leadership; and in using networks to learn from others. It also outlines the support available for workforce reform, which will be key to success. More skilled adults in each primary classroom will help raise standards, and will also help enrich the learning experience. A survey carried out for the Department showed that seven out of ten of the headteachers asked said that they had more than one member of support staff for each teacher; and that numbers had increased over the last three years. 97 per cent. said that increased numbers of teaching assistants had improved the quality of learning and teaching in their school. Workforce reform has huge potential to act as a mechanism for school improvement.

We will be working closely with teachers and headteachers as we take our strategy forward. We spoke to over 2,000 primary headteachers at our first series of primary headteacher conferences in the spring, and their contributions have helped to shape our strategy. We will be speaking to another 6,000 headteachers, in a second series of conferences, by the end of the year. With their help, we will realise this vision and give every primary child the education they deserve.

Defence

Project Aquatrine

The contract for the provision of water and wastewater services to Ministry of Defence sites within the Midlands, Wales and South West England has been awarded. The contract is being awarded to BREY Utilities, a Yorkshire-based consortium comprising Yorkshire Water, Earth Tech Engineering Ltd and KBR (Kellogg Brown & Root).

Project Aquatrine is one of the Government's leading and most significant Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects and will transfer the responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the Department's water and wastewater assets and infrastructure throughout Great Britain to private sector providers. This Project will enable the transfer of environmental risk to those in the private sector who are best placed to manage it. This 25-year contract will enable the MOD to step back from a non-core activity and concentrate its efforts on delivering military capability.

The contract is expected to go live in December 2003.