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Extended Schools

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

Since 2003, the Government have invested £840 million to support the development of extended schools. The Government are determined to sustain that investment to enable all children to access extended services. More funding will be available over the next spending period, including an additional £217 million in 2010-11, to enable the most disadvantaged children and young people to access at least two hours a week of free after-school activities and activities during the school holidays.

Extended schools can be of genuine benefit to children, parents and communities, but is it not true that the implied offer of wrap-around services, before and after school, with a range of activities, cannot be provided in schools such as those in my constituency for £10 per pupil per year? Some 1,000-pupil secondaries with very high levels of deprivation have received a derisory £6,000 for the whole year to provide extended school services. Will my hon. Friend investigate the way in which local authorities top-slice the Government grant for extended schools, and will he look again at how we fund extended schools in deprived areas that cannot sustain a charging policy so that they can provide a meaningful extended schools offer?

I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for extended schools and her acknowledgement of their effectiveness. She has been assiduous in her representations to the Minister for Children and Families and myself on the ability of children from deprived backgrounds to access extended services. We take seriously what she said about top-slicing, and it is something that we are happy to investigate. Of the nearly £180 million made available to local authorities in the last financial year, Westminster received £545,000, which includes capital funding and funding to a specific school as a full-service extended school. Of the £346,000 remaining, £263,000 was devolved to schools and £111,000 retained by the local authority. If my hon. Friend thinks that that is too much top-slicing, I am very happy to work with her on that.

Activities that take place in extended schools include homework clubs and remedial lessons in reading. Such remedial lessons would not be necessary if we got the teaching of reading right in the reception class in the first year of primary school. The Minister will be aware of research that shows the effectiveness of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading. Following the Rose review and the changes to the national curriculum, what plans does the Minister have to assess synthetic phonics teaching in our primary schools? Will he ask Ofsted to assess the training given to teachers in the use of synthetic phonics and their teaching methods?

A thorough assessment was carried out by Jim Rose, and only reported in March 2006. It follows significant improvements in key stage 2 in English over the past 10 years, and the number achieving the national standard has increased from 63 per cent. to 79 per cent., which means that 95,000 pupils a year have improved their reading. We commissioned the Rose review because we need to do better. We are in the process of undertaking the sort of training that the hon. Gentleman raised, and we will certainly make sure that that is effective, alongside the national reading campaign, “Every child a reader”, and initiatives that I shall discuss when I respond to the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham).

I greatly welcome the rolling-out of the extended schools programme, which has made a genuine difference, particularly in the disadvantaged areas of my community, where some children live in overcrowded accommodation and do not have access to computers at home. However, head teachers have expressed concern that some parents view the programme as a glorified babysitting service. What more can be done to engage parents so that they take an interest in what their children do during those extra hours at school?

The wrap-around child care from 8 am to 6 pm is just one part of the extended schools programme. There are five different aspects to the programme, including catch up and stretch and parental support. That component is something that needs to be developed to achieve exactly what my hon. Friend rightly raised.