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Schools (Funding)

Volume 468: debated on Thursday 29 November 2007

Per pupil expenditure in England has risen from under £2,500 in 1997 to £5,600 in 2007-08. That has supported a sustained increase in attainment. In 2007, 60.3 per cent. of pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at grade A to C—up from 45.1 per cent. in 1997.

Schools in my constituency have improved considerably under Labour, but official unemployment is still 10 per cent. and worklessness is nearly 50 per cent. after 10 years of a Labour Government. How will we convince kids to buy into staying on at school and in education up to the age of 18 when, in my constituency, on finishing education they still cannot get a job?

I recognise the issues to which my hon. Friend draws attention because my constituency has a similar profile to his. The figures that I read out do not show that the improvement in schools has been much more marked in areas such as those that he and I represent than it has been in the rest of the country. I believe that that will bring long-term benefits to the economies of Leigh and the part of Birmingham that he represents. Long-term unemployment is significantly down in the west midlands from around 36,000 to 11,000, but he is right: as the Prime Minister made clear this week, we need to do more to integrate the benefits system and the skills services on offer to get people back into work.

Could the disconnect between results in the constituency of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) and the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on education in the past 15 or so years be accounted for by the university of Cambridge’s primary review report, which was produced this month? It stated that the hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on various educational policies, which were poorly researched, not tried out on the ground and largely a waste of money.

I hear that complaint from Conservative Members. [Interruption.] I have the greatest respect for my old university, but the figures that I read out tell an impressive story. Sixty kids out of every 100 leave school with better skills as opposed to 45 kids out of every 100. That is 15 more kids in every 100, which is a significant improvement in 10 years. However, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), the position is much better in constituencies such as mine, where the figure for schools whose pupils get five A to Cs at O-level was approximately 15 per cent. in 1997. That has increased to around 50 per cent. today. The investment has led to a big improvement. I would be surprised if the hon. Gentleman had not seen better school buildings and more teachers in his area.

Can I tell the Minister about a great news story in my constituency, where new specialist engineering colleges such as Freebrough college are opening thanks to £5 million of Government support? Thanks to the Government’s commitment to engineering, we will see many engineers in years to come. May I thank the Minister for the support that he has given to my constituency, particularly in rural parts, and ask him to ensure that investment keeps coming through?

I am happy to accept that and should like to repay the compliment to my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done to improve education on Teesside. He is absolutely right: because of the policies that the Government have taken forward, areas such as Teesside are benefiting from much closer integration between the business community and the education service. That is why the Opposition are taking on, lock, stock and barrel, the proposals that we have put forward to improve education in this country.