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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 459: debated on Thursday 26 April 2007

Education and Skills

The Secretary of State was asked—

Reading Recovery

1. When he expects the additional funding for reading recovery announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be made available. (133952)

Funding for the national roll-out of “Every Child a Reader” will be made available over three years from 2008-09. We are exploring the most effective ways of helping children who will benefit most from intensive literacy support. We are discussing with “Every Child a Reader” partners how we can reach the greatest number of children. I am pleased to confirm that we have invited Nottingham to take part in the third and final year of the pilot this year.

The reading recovery programme, “Every Child a Reader”, is a welcome development, and I thank my right hon. Friend and his team, along with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for introducing it. In a constituency and city such as mine, one in eight youngsters cannot read their first lesson at secondary school, so there is still a great deal of work to do. What can my right hon. Friend do, first, to train reading recovery co-ordinators effectively, and secondly, to roll out a programme to train teachers so that they can begin to expand the reading recovery programme to ensure that all our young people can read properly?

My hon. Friend has been a champion of the education cause in Nottingham. Matters have improved to a huge degree, but there is still an awful lot that we have to tackle. We have placed Nottingham in this project because it is designed specifically for the kinds of problems that he experiences there, as do I in the city that I represent, Hull. This is a partnership with the KPMG Foundation aimed at getting to children in their first year at school to ensure that they have the best possible foundation and that, later on, they do not need the kind of remedial and catch-up attention that gets more difficult the older the child gets. From this September, my hon. Friend will see the implementation of the “Every Child a Reader” policy, which includes the part-funding of a project leader, followed by its rolling out to 20 specialised teachers in 20 schools in Nottingham. Thereafter, it will be rolled out nationally. I undertake to keep a personal eye on how it is going in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Secondary School Standards

Since 1997, education has been this Government’s top priority. We have doubled spending per pupil, there are now 36,800 more teachers, and figures published today show a growth in the school work force of 17,300 in the past year alone. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in congratulating staff and pupils in his constituency on the consequent improvement of 15 per cent. more 14-year-olds achieving the national standard in English and maths. We will continue to raise standards through more choice between schools for parents, more choice of qualifications for pupils, and record investment in personalisation in staff and in buildings.

With reference to the previous question, I can tell the Minister that even in leafy south Bedfordshire, in one of my local upper schools recently a quarter of the children were unable to read properly. Five million adults in this country are functionally illiterate, many of whom are parents of secondary school children who are themselves struggling with reading. Will the Minister redouble his efforts across Government to address adult illiteracy so that we can break that cycle of deprivation?

Although I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not want to join me in congratulating staff and pupils in his constituency on the improvements over the past 10 years, I accept that we need to focus efforts on adult basic skills. That is why we are concentrating our budgetary priorities in that area to do everything that we can to ensure that adults who, perhaps because of inadequacies in the education system prior to the past 10 years, are not reading and writing well, receive all the help that they can get.

In my constituency, there has been an historical legacy of young people leaving school early to go into industry, so education has not been very highly regarded. Over the past few years, however, there has been a dramatic improvement in the number of young people getting GCSEs and A-levels and going to university. If we are to build on that, it is a question of changing aspirations. What are the Government doing to lift people’s aspirations in constituencies such as mine?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question and I join him in congratulating his constituents on the improvements in education in the past 10 years. He is right to raise the issue of aspiration. The way in which the excellent leaders in some of our new schools, such as academies, have raised pupils’ ambitions is a consistent feature that I note on my visits. That is why we are extending some of the thinking behind academies to trust schools, and getting universities and employers involved so that young people in more disadvantaged areas can see themselves going to universities and into well paid employment, thanks to the involvement of such partners.

Standards are not directly related to resources, but they help. Does the Under-Secretary recall receiving a letter from Mr. Glyn Ottery, the chair of the Somerset Association of Secondary Heads, who points out that, because of the underfunding in Somerset compared with other areas—he acknowledges the increase in funding—his school, Stanchester, receives £254,740 less each year than the English national average? How can that extraordinary differential be justified?

I shall have to dig out the letter from Glyn Ottery, but I will ensure that it has my personal attention when we consider the reply. The figure that comes to mind for the improvement in resources in real terms per pupil in Somerset is approximately £1,000. However, I accept that we do not fund equally on a per pupil basis throughout the country. We are currently consulting on school funding—I am examining closely the way in which we balance the need to achieve stability across the system with any need for redistribution to ensure that areas of deprivation, especially within authorities, get the necessary money.

I was pleased on Monday to welcome the Secretary of State to the city academy in my constituency. He was especially impressed to learn that, last year, it managed to send 43 students to university compared with only seven a few years ago. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has also visited the city academy. What lessons does he believe that schools such as the academy can teach other schools in Bristol so that they achieve a similar increase in standards?

My hon. Friend is right. Bristol academy was the first academy school that I visited and it was instrumental in persuading me of the success of the academies programme in raising aspirations—the phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey). The lesson that neighbouring schools can learn—I hope that academies will continue to work more closely with them—is first, to realise that, in difficult areas such as parts of Bristol that are served by the academy, it is possible for children to envisage themselves going to university and getting highly paid jobs; and secondly, it is to ensure that such ambition is embedded throughout the work force and in our approach to all children.

Educational standards cannot be raised unless there is good order in the classroom. That means that the worst behaved children may have to go to pupil referral units so that they do not disrupt the education of others. Surely those units are meant for children who are badly behaved, not for those who have a medical condition, which has led to a statement of special educational needs. Ofsted has warned that pupil referral units are the least successful setting for children with such statements. Does the Under-Secretary agree that it is wrong for children with such statements to be taught alongside violent and disruptive children in pupil referral units?

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the proportion of pupils with statements of special educational needs in pupil referral units has declined from 22.5 per cent. under the Tories in January 1997 to 15 per cent. in January 2006. It is important that children, regardless of their special educational needs, are clear about the discipline code in a school. If they breach that, heads should be free to exclude, subject to an appeals system in which a small percentage of appeals are upheld. If that means that they need to go to a PRU, so be it, as long as it ensures that it delivers personalised education. Ofsted finds that nine out of 10 PRUs are satisfactory or better.

Primary School Standards

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that primary standards in English and mathematics are at their highest ever. We are improving the quality of teaching and learning, with ongoing training and support for teachers.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in congratulating pupils in his constituency on improvements in results at age 11 of 13 per cent. and 11 per cent. more pupils achieving the national standard in English and maths respectively. Following Jim Rose’s independent review of early reading, new teaching guidance called “letters and sounds” will be launched this month further to support the teaching of phonics.

I do indeed congratulate teachers and pupils personally when I visit schools in my constituency, which I do regularly. Last year, 35 per cent. of children at key stage 2 had a reading and writing standard below level 4. What progress is being made in the roll-out of synthetic phonics to train teachers to address the reading and writing problem in primary schools?

The hon. Gentleman is right: Jim Rose’s review was instructive, and we will issue guidance shortly and provide teachers with primary framework packs to help them in teaching, for example, English and maths. That guidance focuses on the use of synthetic phonics, and will ensure that best practice is rolled out across the country to continue to improve reading, alongside the measures to which the Secretary of State referred in response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen).

Has my hon. Friend yet had the opportunity to read the letter that I sent him following my visit to Doxey primary school in Stafford, in which I praised the staff and especially the leadership of the school for its fantastic improvement in performance over the past five years? I have noticed in Staffordshire, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) has in Somerset, that the success of schools is constrained by the low funding that they currently receive. In the context of the review of funding being carried out by my hon. Friend, does he buy the argument that those of us in areas that have traditionally been low-funded could contribute much more to the Government’s agenda of raising standards if we were better funded?

Clearly, we are into the school funding lobbying round. I congratulate staff, governors, pupils and parents at Doxey primary school on its excellent results and on the excellent value for money that they represent, set against the funding that the school received. Our primary focus in funding is deprivation: we need to ensure that those who suffer disadvantage are funded to tackle that disadvantage, wherever it is found. As I consider the results of the consultation due for completion at the end of May, I will look at whether we are properly targeting deprivation, including in counties such as Staffordshire.

Is the Minister concerned at the growing number of primary school children being excluded from school? Does he have any plans to deal with that increasing problem?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that exclusions of primary school children have increased, but it is a very small number: I think that 0.03 per cent. of primary school pupils are being permanently excluded. We do have some concerns about that, so we have asked our national strategies team to look at where such exclusion is concentrated and consider what interventions might be necessary.

More than 30 Members on both sides of the House, and the Department, have supported the competition being run by the parliamentary information technology committee in partnership with E-Skills UK, the sector skills council for IT. Does my hon. Friend agree that the engagement of Members in such exercises, working with their schools, can help to promote higher standards in this vital area? Will he take this opportunity publicly to support the competition and encourage other Members to sign up for it?

Certainly. I warmly commend to Members on both sides of the House the parliamentary IT committee’s competition for schools, which is a significant initiative. The roll-out of IT, with billions of pounds invested in information and communications technology in schools, is reaping results. Yesterday, I met the supplier of IT—RM—to schools in Newham, where half of primary schools have received the IT and half have not. The effect on the results of those schools in Newham that are using IT well is highly significant. We all need to have due regard to that in our constituencies.

In 1997, the Prime Minister promised to eradicate classes of more than 30 in primary schools to raise standards. Today’s figures show, however, that half a million primary school children are still taught in such large classes, rising to a shocking one in four at key stage 2. After 10 years of the Labour Government, why are they still failing on the basics?

We are not failing in the basics. Today we announced the best-ever adult:pupil ratio—one in 73 classes at key stage 1 consists of more than 30 pupils, as opposed to one in five 10 years ago. Obviously we want to reach a point at which no child aged five, six or seven is in a class of more than 30, but there are constraints in, for instance, rural primary schools with very few teachers. It is difficult to adjust staff:pupil ratios just like that, but I think we are making excellent progress in delivering our promises.

Poorer Students

4. What discussions he has had with vice-chancellors of Russell Group universities on increasing the number of students from poorer backgrounds who are accepted for study. (133955)

The Government have made a clear commitment to widening participation in higher education. I regularly have discussions with vice-chancellors and others throughout the sector about how we can help more people from under-represented groups, particularly young people from poorer backgrounds, to participate in higher education. The discussions focus on raising aspirations and opportunities to attract more applications. The document “Widening participation in higher education”, published last November, describes the actions that we are taking.

As the Minister will know, whenever universities consider the potential of students from state schools whose grades may be slightly different from those of students from independent schools, they get into trouble with certain sections of the press. Does he not think that the introduction of an A* grade at A-level will make the life of admissions tutors at some Russell Group universities much more difficult, given that in the first few years there will probably be a disproportionate success rate among independent school students?

I think there is a general consensus that there is a strong case for the A* grade. The key judgment will concern the level at which the threshold is set. I am sure that, as well as taking a range of other initiatives, we can continue to promote the widening of participation. I agree that university admissions tutors have always made judgments both about individual students’ attainment to date and about their potential to develop, and some of the initiatives that UCAS has been taking will help to inform those judgments.

The Minister will be pleased to learn that in Tees Valley the number of university applicants from low-income families has increased by more than 48 per cent. That startlingly good result was achieved primarily through the Aimhigher programme, which has inspired youngsters and schools to have self-belief. Will the Minister visit us in Teesside and look at the examples that we can provide? We would love to share them with everyone. Will he also tell us what additional support will be given to the Aimhigher programme?

As my hon. Friend knows, I visited Teesside university with her recently, and I will seek a further opportunity to do so.

The Aimhigher programme has been a real success story in promoting aspiration among under-represented groups, and we should continue to support it. We should also celebrate yesterday’s announcement of a significant increase in the number of university applications for next year. The number of applications for places at English universities has risen by 6 per cent., and—crucially—the proportion of applicants from lower socio-economic groups has not only not fallen but actually increased. That demonstrates emphatically that critics of the new system are wrong.

I agree with the Minister that the A* grade will help universities to assess the merits of applicants, but does he think that students applying to university should be judged on whether or not their parents went to university? A yes or a no would be helpful.

I think that UCAS’s recent decision to include information about parental participation in higher education may prove to be a useful tool in helping university admissions tutors to make judgments. They have always made judgments about both attainment to date and potential to succeed. If there is no previous experience of higher education in a young person’s family, an admissions tutor will be able to provide that person with a taster course, or put him or her in touch with a student ambassador. That can help young people to achieve their full potential.

Will my hon. Friend ask the Department to conduct a review to establish the merits of the system in the state of Texas, where, as he knows, the top 10 per cent. of students who leave colleges have an automatic right to enter any university? That has proved to be a boon for university outcomes in the state.

My hon. Friend and I have discussed that subject. University admissions are, rightly, a matter for university authorities. Nevertheless, we must have available as much data as possible, to ensure that the widening participation initiatives that we undertake are as effective as possible.

Does the Minister agree—I think that he does—that one of the key problems facing the Russell Group universities is the comparative flight in the maintained sector away from the crunchy subjects that those universities value, such as mathematics and sciences and ancient and modern languages? What can the Minister do to avert that flight, and in that context does he not agree that it is tragic that there are plans to get rid of ancient history A-level, as that will intensify the dominance of a small number of schools in the Latin and Greek classics and close down a possible route to university for children in the maintained sector, which is potentially deeply socially regressive?

We must do everything that we can to encourage young people from all backgrounds, and in particular state schools, to apply to university. The evidence shows that there has been a significant improvement in attainment over the past 10 years which is helping to fuel an increase in applications. In respect of the crunchy subjects that the hon. Gentleman mentions, I hope that he welcomes the significant increase in applications for physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering science that there have been for next year, and which are part of a three-year trend. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about ancient history, I know that he and my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools discussed that last night, and that we are looking at that issue.

Is it not becoming increasingly obvious that the kids who go to Eton school and are educated beyond their intelligence—like some Members who serve on the Opposition Front Bench—are being given additional opportunities to go to the posh universities, while working-class kids do not get the same chance? Will the Minister reverse this process?

I want applicants from all backgrounds and all schools to progress to university and to fulfil their potential. It is crucial that we help those from the poorest backgrounds to achieve that, and the Government are doing everything we can in that respect. The fact that there are increases in the numbers of applicants from state schools and from lower socio-economic groups demonstrates that we are making genuine progress.

School Meals

We do not require hot meals to be served in schools, but we encourage their provision through funding. Transitional funding for school food—£220 million for 2005-08—is conditional upon local authorities developing plans to begin the reintroduction of hot meals. In addition, schools and local authorities are encouraged to use their capital funding to ensure that adequate kitchens are in place. That will be supported by an additional targeted capital fund for school kitchens from 2009.

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer so far as it goes, but I am sure that he is aware that three years ago this month Conservative-controlled Essex county council scrapped the school meal service for primary schools. Many schools have made alternative arrangements, but not all of them have done so, as some do not have sufficient resources or capacity. I ask the Minister to consider in particular three such schools: Montgomery infant, Montgomery county junior and St. Michael’s primary. Those schools draw pupils predominantly from families whose fathers and mothers are in Her Majesty’s armed forces, so while dad is sent off to Iraq or Afghanistan the children do not have hot school—

We are working closely with the School Food Trust wherever there are gaps in provision with regard to hot meals in schools, at both primary and secondary level. However, we should keep this issue in context, as there have been developments in recent years, not least the additional funding worth almost £500 million from 2005 through to 2011. The national picture is that hot meals are not served in 5 per cent. of primary schools and 0.1 per cent. of secondary schools, which equates to three secondary schools. Having said that, I accept that there are issues and pockets of problems that we have to tackle, and we are doing so in a number of ways, not least through our capital programme and the devolved formula capital, which is devolved directly to schools. As I said, we also aim to announce later this year specific targeted capital for school kitchens.

You have done that to me twice now, Mr. Speaker.

Does the Minister share my deep concern at the ongoing decline in the take-up of school meals, and is it not doubly ironic that the imposition of the deep-fried standard has actually contributed significantly to that decline? Will he adopt a more co-ordinated approach with Ministers from other Departments with an interest in this matter and review and reconsider that standard? Will he also prioritise the provision of ovens, so that the switch away from deep-frying facilities in our schools can be speeded up?

On deep fried, we are doing exactly the right thing. The provision of chips, for example, is limited to twice a week, and we would not want to encourage—as some would—chips being passed through the school gates. We are taking exactly the right steps, working with the School Food Trust to ensure high nutritional standards in schools.

On take-up, I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a BBC survey at the back end of last year. We anticipated take-up issues arising in the early stages—that is not uncommon—but we are working with the School Food Trust to get some more up-to-date information, and I am confident that we will meet the demanding target that we have set of a 4 per cent. increase in the take-up of school meals by March 2008, and a 10 per cent. increase by autumn 2009.

Is the problem not twofold? First, not enough families are having a hot meal at night together at home, where children can learn the basic social skills and table manners that they should learn. Secondly, too many children are snacking on junk food on the journey to and from school. The Government’s own figures, published in the School Food Trust survey in April of last year, show that 51 per cent. of parents of children at secondary school are giving them up to or more than £5 a day so that they can buy these products. Will the Government take measures to encourage families to eat at home at night round the table?

We are certainly taking measures to reduce snacking on poor-quality foods. Later this year, new standards will be put in place, which the hon. Lady will doubtless welcome, on tuck food in schools. We will also introduce as part of our five-point plan the entitlement to cook in schools. That will ensure that children from the age of 11 through to 16 are taught to cook a nutritional meal at school, which they can then do at home. Hopefully, that will have a knock-on effect, so that children can make use at home of their education in nutritional values. I am sure that that will make a big difference not just in school, but at home.


7. How many people under 25 years old were engaged in apprenticeships in (a) 1997 and (b) the most recent period for which figures are available. (133958)

I am delighted to be here—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]—and to be telling my hon. Friend that the growth in apprenticeships since 1997 has been a major success story. In England at the end of 1997, 75,000 young people aged under 25 were engaged in apprenticeships; by the end of last year, 254,000 were so engaged. I am also pleased to be able to tell him that the proportion of young people completing their apprenticeships is now a record 59 per cent.

May I say how delighted I am to see the Minister in his place? What he has told us about today is a genuinely significant achievement. Ten years ago, when this Government came to power, we simply were not training our young people in skills for the future. However, does he not accept that for a significant part of the population, at least—young women—we are still not doing enough in the provision of apprenticeships in engineering and construction, for example? If we are to bridge the skills gap that exists and will continue to exist, we must close the gender gap. What can we do about that?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He is right; although some 47 per cent. of entrants to apprenticeships are young women, there is still an imbalance in the occupations that they take up. We are drawing up an action plan across Government with employers and the Learning and Skills Council to market to particular groups, such as young women, the benefits of taking up an apprenticeship—one of which is higher pay in construction and engineering, which my hon. Friend mentioned. We also want employer champions, especially women who have come through the apprentice system and are now leading figures in those industries, to tell other employers that they are not tapping into 50 per cent. of the work force and to explain how they could improve their productivity and profitability by utilising the talents of young women.

Is the Minister aware of the excellent scheme at Battersea power station, in which many of my constituents are involved? It is about getting women into construction. I recently went round the power station with many women who live in Putney but work in Battersea. Does he think that lessons from that scheme can be applied to other developments elsewhere?

I am aware of that scheme and, indeed, we launched our further education White Paper at that location because we wanted to celebrate the success of such schemes. It might be helpful if the hon. Lady were to have a word with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who unfortunately published an article recently that described apprenticeships disparagingly. He wrote that

“much training dubbed ‘apprenticeship’ is not worthy of the name.”

That is not a helpful contribution to attracting young people to apprenticeships.

I, too, welcome the Minister back. The figures are astounding, from 75,000 to 254,000, as he mentioned. However, we need to go further, because we still have an enormous skills shortage, especially of electricians, plumbers and other such trades. I wonder whether we should have some sort of scheme in which the apprenticeship starts in the last year of the child’s secondary education, so as to start it earlier. Is the Department doing any work on that?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. We have a scheme called the young apprenticeship scheme, with 10,000 young apprentices aged 14 to 16 in different parts of the country. The scheme equips them well for making the choice at the age of 16. We want to go further: the Leitch report on the future of skills recommended an expansion of apprenticeships to some 500,000 a year by 2020. That is a big challenge to all employers and training providers. It is a challenge that we have endorsed and we will bring forward proposals on how to achieve that step change in the delivery of apprenticeships in this country.

It is great to see the Minister back. I know that the whole House shares my warm personal regard for him, but I am sure that he would not expect me to pull my punches. Despite his bluff and blather, the fact is that we are training fewer people in higher level technical skills. The take-up of advanced apprenticeships has crashed by more than a quarter and is now below its 1997 level. The adult learning inspectorate report exposed the fact that one can complete an apprenticeship without setting foot in a workplace. Does not that tell you, Mr. Speaker—a model of the apprenticeship system—and the House that these are virtual apprenticeships, barely worthy of the name? Written answers from Ministers also show that employer engagement is falling. Will the Minister admit that the number of people in apprenticeship training at all levels is declining?

The hon. Gentleman is factually incorrect and has just insulted hundreds of thousands of apprentices, employers and those on whom apprentices rely for their training and support, who are doing a fantastic job. It is not possible to complete an apprenticeship without having to set foot in the workplace: one has to be in work to complete an apprenticeship. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity to apologise to those people for his factual inaccuracies and disparaging remarks about apprenticeships and join the Government in celebrating their success. Half of the UK team that we are sending out to Japan to compete in the world skills championship—at the highest level possible—are young apprentices, so we can celebrate huge success in the training investment by this Government.

Pupil Behaviour

This month, we have given school staff a new statutory power to discipline pupils for misbehaviour on and off school premises. We have widened the scope for detentions, and established a new legal defence for confiscation. Next month, we will give heads the statutory power to search pupils for weapons without consent.

In respect of representations, in 2006-07 my Department replied to 307 items of public correspondence about discipline in schools. That was a 35 per cent. reduction on the previous year.

I have to say that I have not noticed a reduction. When I go to schools—in Leicestershire, not in the inner city—I get representations from teachers who tell me, for instance, that they are sworn at by pupils under the age of 14 three times before the start of the school day. I understand that one child under the age of six is expelled for bad behaviour each week. Are we not developing an anti-learning culture in our schools, where respect for teachers and authority is diminishing? The Government have offered some good new initiatives, but they also tend to mouth platitudes. They have taken no real action to sort out classrooms disrupted by poor behaviour so that those pupils who wish to learn can get on and do so.

There speaks the authentic voice of Colonel Blimp, from the saloon bar of the Dog and Duck somewhere in Leicestershire.

The hon. Gentleman is not a good example of good behaviour in public school education. I can tell him that the idea that we are all going to hell in a handcart in respect of behaviour in schools is not just an insult to teachers, head teachers and today’s youngsters; it is simply not true. There has probably been the equivalent of the hon. Gentleman in every previous Parliament who pointed to a previous generation when behaviour was perfect. For the record, Ofsted measures pupil behaviour and has done so for some years. Most pupils behave well for most of the time, and the overwhelming majority of schools are orderly places. Indeed, the proportion of education in both secondary and primary schools that is satisfactory or better has increased and not declined.

The very important point is that behaviour and discipline in school is one of parents’ major concerns. That is why we have provided the powers that were recommended to the Conservative Government by the 1988 Elton report that came out of a committee of inquiry. Nothing happened then, but the powers that we have made available are relevant to the hon. Gentleman’s question, as they give teachers and head teachers the right to deal with bad behaviour outside the school gates. Those powers enjoyed all-party support and came into effect on 1 April. They will add to the existing powers that teachers have to reduce bad behaviour in our schools.

Reddish Vale technology college in my constituency has made great strides in reducing disruptive behaviour through the use of extra-curricular facilities, such as the on-site farm, to give disengaged pupils wider experience. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that the new powers to discipline, the parenting contracts and the other powers that he has just mentioned are intended to complement and not detract from the efforts to tackle disruptive behaviour being made by schools such as Reddish Vale?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the powers are intended to complement schools’ work in that regard. From September, schools will be able to make parenting contracts in respect of behaviour without excluding the pupil involved. The anomaly in the current system is that parenting orders can be introduced only after pupils have behaved so badly that they have reached the stage of exclusion. The basic message is that parents have a responsibility when children behave badly. An important element of that is the fact that parents are included in the process through mechanisms such as parenting orders and an insistence that they go into schools to talk about their children’s bad behaviour. Teachers up and down the country are introducing innovative ways to ensure that their schools maintain an exemplary level of behaviour.

I congratulate the school to which my hon. Friend referred. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools says that he has visited it and that it is an excellent example of the work going on throughout the country.

Of course it is vital to distinguish between the disruptive child and the disabled child. Given that a number of children with disabilities, including those with the hidden disability of speech, language and communication impairment, have often been inappropriately physically restrained by staff who wrongly think that they are simply being naughty, will the Secretary of State heed the pleas of TreeHouse, the National Autistic Society and the Advisory Centre for Education—not to mention parents—who want the guidance on physical restraint to be made statutory, compliance with it to be monitored and training provided to staff so that they may effectively and fairly implement it?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and we need to keep the issue under review—it is constantly raised with me by parents. Getting the balance right and ensuring that we have the right level of competence and skill to distinguish between the child with genuine behavioural problems and the child who is badly behaved is something that educationists have been trying to achieve for a long time. The hon. Gentleman’s proposal for resolving the issue is one view of how we can deal with it and I promise him that I will look into it personally and come back to him.

Pupil Exclusions

9. What steps he is taking to assist those pupils excluded from school to re-integrate into full-time education; and if he will make a statement. (133961)

From September, schools and local authorities will be required to arrange suitable full-time education for all excluded pupils from the sixth day of exclusion, which is a considerable improvement on the current expectation that local authorities do that from the 16th day of exclusion for permanently excluded pupils only. We shall also require schools to hold reintegration interviews with the parents of pupils excluded for fixed periods to discuss how their child’s behaviour can be improved.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the EAR to Listen independent advocacy pilot projects being carried out by Save the Children up and down the country, including in my constituency? The projects have achieved a great deal of success in maintaining vulnerable young people in a school setting rather than their being excluded. Can he look at that experience to see whether it can be adopted as best practice?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the Save the Children advocacy project to my attention. The scheme sounds excellent and I want to find out more about it to see whether there is good practice that we can extend elsewhere, so I have asked an official to attend the next Save the Children advocacy steering group on 1 May and to report back to me about the project.

As I think we all agree, first, that it is right to exclude disruptive children from school and, secondly, that we must reintegrate them as quickly as possible, may I suggest to the Minister that the state does not always know best? There seem to be many good voluntary organisations and I wonder whether they have sufficient support from his Department.

I agree with the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question. As he advises the leader of his party—to whom I listened on the “Today” programme on Monday—perhaps he could advise him that heads can exclude. We are backing heads when pupils’ behaviour warrants exclusion. We have made it clear that heads can permanently exclude pupils who are disruptive or violent, even for a first or one-off offence, and we have greatly limited the powers of appeals panels, to which reference was made, to return excluded pupils to the classroom. The vast majority of the 9,440 pupils permanently excluded each year are not returned to the classroom; in 2004-05 that happened in only 110 cases— 1.2 per cent. of exclusions. On the point about the voluntary sector, we are interested in that sector and want to work well with it across Government. That is something I regularly discuss with the Minister in the Cabinet Office with responsibility for the third sector across Government.

SEN Resourcing

11. What recent assessment he has made of the resources available to schools with above average levels of special educational needs and statemented pupils. (133963)

It is for local authorities to decide, in consultation with their schools forums, on the distribution of funding to their schools, taking account of local needs and circumstances. However, we know that local authority budgeted expenditure on the education of children with special educational needs has increased from £2.8 billion in 2001-02, when data were first available, to £4.5 billion in 2006-07, which reflects the 47 per cent. real-terms increase in the total revenue funding per pupil since the Government came to power.

Welcome as that additional funding is, the Minister will be aware through correspondence with her Department—as well as from my argument that Cornwall should get a fairer share of the schools budget—that because of how the formula is cut, schools such as Pendeen in my constituency, where more than half the pupils have either special educational needs or a statement, face severe financial challenges at present. If, as the Government say, “Every Child Matters”, what reassurance can the Minister provide that the formula will be set in such a way that in schools such as Pendeen SEN will be met? Will she agree to meet me and my constituents from Pendeen to discuss the challenges that they face?

The hon. Gentleman will know that elements in the funding from central Government to local authorities represent deprivation, which is an issue at Pendeen, and special educational needs. I know that the situation in Pendeen is as he describes and that a significant proportion of children are not statemented but have SEN. The issue is that the roll of pupils is falling, which explains the current budget problems in the school. The local authority is, however, fully aware of that and has visited Pendeen school very recently to talk to the head teacher about what can be done to meet the current position, which is reflected in other small schools in Cornwall. I would certainly be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman if that is what he would like.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Human Trafficking

17. How many charges of human trafficking the Crown Prosecution Service successfully pursued in each of the last three years. (133944)

I regret that the Crown Prosecution Service does not hold information in the precise form requested. Human traffickers are sometimes prosecuted for other offences, ranging from rape to immigration offences. However, CPS records show that the number of charges for trafficking for sexual exploitation in the last three years were: 16 in 2004-05; 65 in 2005-06; and 116 in 2006-07.

That does not quite square with the answer that I was given by the Home Office in October, which stated that

“30 convictions for trafficking for sexual exploitation”—[Official Report, 23 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 1682W.]

took place in total in the last three years, and that there were only 16 cases in that time, even though the Home Office admits that 4,000 women a year are being trafficked through our ports of entry. That means 12,000 women coming through, but only 30 convictions. Is that because trafficked women do not feel safe giving evidence against their traffickers and have no safe haven in Britain if they do give it; is it because the police do not give much priority in the overall scheme of things to pursuing traffickers; or is it, finally, because the Crown Prosecution Service is neither motivated nor up to the job of ensuring that traffickers are brought to court, charged, prosecuted and sentenced?

The point that I emphasised was that the figures I provided were charges. I will have a look at the answer that the hon. Gentleman received from the Home Office. The difficulty is that traffickers are often prosecuted under a range of different provisions and it depends precisely on the list of charges to which the answer was related.

On the wider issue, human trafficking clearly harms individuals—and the whole of our society, for that matter—and the CPS will prosecute if there is a public interest in doing so, as there invariably will be, where there is sufficient evidence to secure a prosecution. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the case of Luan Plakici who was sentenced to 10 years in the Crown court for organised trafficking. As a result of the Attorney-General’s reference, that was increased to 23 years, so we have had a number of very considerable successes. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to do more and we are doing more. Indeed, the UK Borders Bill will do more to enable us to carry out prosecutions.

Let me also say that I hope that signing up to the European convention on human trafficking will, when mandatory reflection periods come in, give victims more confidence to come forward and report these issues. Hopefully, that will result in more prosecutions.

Victims Surcharge

It is expected that the victims surcharge will generate up to £16 million to provide better services for the victims of crime, including £3 million for witness care units to encourage and support victims and witnesses in giving evidence, £3 million to provide independent domestic violence advisers, and other funding to help victims organisations. Supporting and helping victims and witnesses within the criminal justice system is an important aspect of getting more successful prosecutions.

It has of course been extremely difficult to secure prosecutions in certain areas of criminality, especially domestic violence and rape. I welcome the implementation of the victims surcharge. Does the Solicitor-General agree that we will be able to expand the network of voluntary organisations that support victims and encourage them to come forward, given that fear and the possibility of stigma sometimes prevent people from bringing cases to trial?

My hon. Friend is right. The proper long-term funding of witness care units will help witnesses and victims to come forward, especially regarding cases of rape. The extra funding for independent domestic violence advisers, who we hope to have in place in 64 sites where we have established specialist domestic violence courts, will help victims of domestic violence. Securing funding for victims organisations is an important step that I hope will enable those who support victims to know that funding will be in place in the longer term. Those who offend will be in a position where they will make a contribution to supporting victims.

Will the Solicitor-General explain why the victims surcharge is being levied on people who commit offences that often have no victims, such as motorists, yet not on those who commit offences that always have a victim, such as rapists?

I do not accept that there is never a victim in motoring offences. Motoring offences are not victimless crimes. Some 3,201 people were killed on Britain’s roads in 2005, while 28,954 people were seriously injured and the total number of casualties was 271,000. Other so-called victimless crimes cause harm and create a cost to society through bringing the offender to justice and enforcing the sentence imposed. Money from the surcharge is going directly to help victims services—I think that the hon. Gentleman ought to be supporting that.

Law Officers

As was the case under previous Administrations, the Government’s position is that Law Officers should be Members of one of the Houses of Parliament so that they are accountable to this House and the other place for decisions that are reached and may be questioned about them.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Obviously, there are arguments on both sides, but I understand that the Solicitor-General has come to this House on three occasions to answer questions about the controversial decision not to prosecute British Aerospace. Had he not been a Member of this House, who would have been able to answer our questions about that problem?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. As soon as the Serious Fraud Office took its decision to halt the investigation regarding BAE Systems, I came to the House—the Attorney-General went to the House of Lords—to explain the decision in person. There have been three debates in this House and three in the other place on that decision in which we have participated. We have corresponded with a large number of Members of both Houses. That happens only because the Law Officers are Members of Parliament, directly accountable to it for the work of the Serious Fraud Office and the other main prosecuting authorities. That would be lost if the Law Officers were taken out of the picture and out of Parliament.

I agree entirely with the Solicitor-General. In the circumstances, would he care to comment on the views held by the Minister of State at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which has been advocating that the Law Officers should be taken out of Parliament altogether and should cease to be Members of the Lords or the Commons?

I take a different view entirely. I think that all Ministers, not only Law Officers, should not be Members of the House. That is part of the problem. If I am the Minister for paper clips and statues, the only thing that I can talk about is paper clips and statues. If I am a Government Whip, I cannot say anything at all—I tell a lie; I could move that the House adjourns. We want Ministers out of the House, but we want to bring them to account in the House for their stewardship, whether they are Law Officers, Foreign Office Ministers or Home Secretaries.

My view is that Ministers should be accountable in this House. They should be able to answer questions from Members such as my hon. Friend. The Law Officers have to decide on controversial issues and we want to ensure that they have to come to this House and the other place to answer questions on them. It is all about accountability. In a sense, people can pay their money and take their choice, but accountability is important in this place and we can provide it.

I, too, agree that accountability to this House on the part of Law Officers is extremely important. In that context, the Attorney-General has, rightly, made it plain that were the dossier from the Director of Public Prosecutions on the cash-for-peerages investigation to be passed to him for decision, he would take independent counsel’s advice. In light of the accountability of the Attorney-General to the House, will he make that advice available to Members, either immediately if no prosecution takes place, or, if it does, on a Privy Council basis until such time as the trial would not be prejudiced by the contents?

It is premature to speculate on precisely what will happen in this case. The police file has gone to the CPS, and the hon. Gentleman will appreciate the fact that the Law Officers have not yet seen any of the evidence. The Attorney-General has said that if he is consulted he will take advice from senior independent counsel. He has undertaken to consult Opposition spokesmen for the Law Officers’ role on the choice of counsel. He has said that if the decision is taken not to prosecute, he would wish to publish counsel’s advice in so far as it is in accord with the principles of justice. That will ensure that the whole process is as objective and transparent as possible.