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Connexions Partnerships

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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If he will make a statement on the publication of the first three Ofsted reports on Connexions partnerships. [114998]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Ivan Lewis)

I am pleased to say that Ofsted has judged all three partnerships to be good. In each case, Ofsted found that the partnership enables young people to reach good levels of achievement; has a good overall quality of practice; has a good understanding of the communities that it serves; and has good leadership and management, together with committed staff.

I thank my hon. Friend. With that positive outcome and, I trust, a further good report from the west of England Connexions Partnership board, will he confirm that Connexions partnerships make a real difference to young people in their progression to their adult working lives?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for supporting the work of Connexions in her constituency. While I cannot disclose the results of the Ofsted report in her area, she will not be disappointed. To underline the progress that Connexions is now making, in a recent independent survey of more than 16,000 young people who have used the service, 91 per cent. said that they were satisfied or very satisfied; 90 per cent. agreed that Connexions had a lot to offer young people; 86 per cent. felt that it helped them to understand all the options available to them; and 68 per cent. said that it had helped them make life-changing decisions. Up and down the country, Connexions is beginning to make a real difference to the life chances of young people.

Those are fine words, but can the Minister confirm that the Ofsted report says that only around half of Connexions staff have direct contact with young people, and that in Lincolnshire and Rutland that figure dropped to just 40 per cent.?

Can he also confirm that this year, with a budget of £429 million, the Connexions service is spending just £4.5 million—1 per cent.—with voluntary organisations that work with the most vulnerable young people in our society? Does he accept that growing bureaucracy is one of the main reasons why many voluntary organisations often see Connexions as a rival, not a partner, and what steps is he taking to address that problem before voluntary organisations completely lose faith in the Connexions service?

In a recent debate, I made a commitment to the hon. Gentleman that I would analyse the relationship between Connexions and the voluntary and community sector. I can bring him the good news that in fact the proportion of money that is spent on voluntary and community services in Connexions partnerships areas is not 1 per cent. The guidance said that it should be 5 per cent.; we believe that on average it is 6 per cent. We accept that the development of a new service will have strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses that were identified in the initial Ofsted report included the need for better quality assurance systems and for a more strategic approach to the involvement of young people. We must address those concerns.

We do not pretend that an entirely new service has got everything right. It is important, however, to support the positive partnerships that are taking place and to recognise the fact that young people are getting an integrated service that brings together all the professionals in communities to ensure that they can overcome the barriers that too often get in the way of progressing and achieving in their learning and their lives.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, welcome as the Ofsted report is, it is even more important to get the kind of positive response that he got from parents and users at the Connexions centre in Burnley when he visited it? That shows that the Connexions service is doing an excellent job, and supports what the Ofsted report says.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's comments. Burnley is going through difficult times. On my recent visit, it was encouraging and reassuring to meet young people who are benefiting from the Connexions service by seeing life chances and opportunities opening up. We need such policy developments to ensure that people in areas such as Burnley do not turn to extremist parties, but see the direct benefits of mainstream politics and politicians. One of those benefits is the development of the Connexions service, an initiative of which the Government are incredibly proud.