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Children’s Plan

Volume 469: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2007

The first ever children’s plan, which we are publishing today, follows months of consultation with parents, teachers, professionals and children and young people up and down the country.

Over the past 10 years, the lives of children have improved. School standards are up, child poverty is down, and we have many more outstanding schools and many fewer failing schools. However, following our detailed consultations, the results of which I have laid before the House, I have concluded that we need further reforms to deliver a world-class education for every child and that we must do more to prevent children from falling behind or failing to fulfil their potential because of learning difficulties, poverty or disadvantage. I have also concluded that, although there are many more opportunities for young people today than ever before, families want more help to manage the new pressures that they face: balancing work and family life; dealing with the internet and modern commercialism; and letting children play while staying safe. The children’s plan is our response.

Let me deal first with the new measures to support the learning of every child. The early years are critical; so as we raise the entitlement to free nursery care for all three and four-year-olds from 12 to 15 hours, we will allocate more than £200 million over the next three years, to ensure that young children receive the highest quality care in their early years, with at least two graduates in nurseries in the most disadvantaged areas, and to extend the offer of free nursery places to 20,000 two-year-olds in the most disadvantaged communities.

School standards are rising, but I want to accelerate the improvement. I have therefore asked Sir Jim Rose to undertake a root and branch review of the primary curriculum to create more space for teaching the basics—English and maths, and a foreign language—in all primary schools, and also to ensure all children start secondary school with the personal skills to succeed. If our making good progress trials are successful, we will implement age not stage testing nationally, which will represent the biggest reform to national curriculum assessment since its creation. To back our teachers, I am today allocating £44 million over the next three years so that all new teachers will be able to study for a masters-level qualification and to establish a new future leaders programme to bring even more talented people into teaching.

Supporting parents is central to this children’s plan. In future, every parent will have a record of their child’s development and education through the early years and into primary school. The Minister for Schools and Learners will consult parents and schools over the next few months—and legislate, if necessary—to ensure that every child has a personal tutor who stays with them as they progress through secondary school; that every parent receives up-to-date information about their child’s progress, attendance and behaviour, using real-time reporting and new technologies such as mobile phones or the internet; and that every secondary school has a parents’ council, so that parents know what they can expect, how they will be consulted and how they can express concerns and complaints.

Parents also want earlier intervention if their child falls behind. Alongside one-to-one support for reading and maths at primary school and our new every child a writer programme, I am allocating £18 million over the next three years to improve initial teacher training about special educational needs and to find new ways to identify dyslexia earlier. Following the Bercow review, Ofsted will lead a review into our special educational needs provision in 2009.

In our consultation, head teachers told us that schools needed more support from other services to tackle all barriers to learning. Today, one in 10 children have a diagnosed mental health problem, but schools repeatedly say how hard it is to get the child and adolescent mental health services—CAMHS—to engage with them early enough. So I have agreed with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health that we will launch a review of CAMHS, to investigate how it can work better with schools and to identify where early support is most needed. Our two Departments will also produce the first ever child health strategy in the spring.

We will also enhance inspection across schools and children’s services, and examine whether children’s trust arrangements need to be strengthened, including through further legislation if necessary. To improve services for parents further, and to enable better early intervention, we will publish new guidance for the building schools for the future programme, to ensure that where possible schools are designed to be co-located with other services—health, police, social care, advice and welfare services. Furthermore, because schools must be sustainable for our children, and their children, we will set a new ambition that all new schools be zero carbon by 2016.

With the reforms that I have already announced to the House to tackle failing and coasting schools, to expand the academies and trusts programme, to raise the education leaving age to 18 and to introduce new diplomas, this children’s plan will set us on course to deliver ambitious long-term goals for a world-class education for every child.

Discipline in schools is essential for raising standards. We have given teachers new powers to tackle bad behaviour, and 97 per cent. of schools are now in behaviour partnerships, co-ordinating behaviour and exclusions policy, which Sir Alan Steer recommended should include all schools by 2008. I am minded to implement that recommendation in 2008, and I am asking Sir Alan to assess progress on all his proposals and to make recommendations in the spring.

We will also strengthen the regulation of pupil referral units, improve the quality of provision and pilot a range of alternatives; that could be one role for studio schools. To break cycles of reoffending among young people, the Home Secretary and I are together allocating £66 million over the next three years to target support at the young people most at risk of getting into crime. As we prepare our youth crime action plan, we will reform the education and resettlement of young offenders and pilot the use of restorative justice from April 2008.

Our consultation reports that, while parents are clear that it is their job to bring up their families, they want more information and support to help them keep their children safe and healthy. Our children’s plan includes the provision of £167 million over the next three years to fund two new expert parenting advisers in every local authority area, expand family learning, support young carers and deliver new support for families with disabled children.

Dr. Tanya Byron is investigating the potential risks to children from harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games, and will report next March. We will make proposals on young people and alcohol in the spring and investigate how the huge increase in commercial activity, advertising and marketing aimed specifically at children and young people is affecting their well-being.

I have two further announcements. In our consultation, children and young people told us that they wanted more places to play, interesting things to do outside school and recognition for their achievements. Earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families set out our 10-year strategy for young people, with an ambition to have new youth facilities and places for young people to go to in every constituency of the country. It will be funded by proceeds from unclaimed assets and new investment from my Department.

I want us to start to transform youth services now, so, before the unclaimed assets legislation takes effect we will invest an additional £160 million over the next two years to develop high-quality youth facilities for young people, shaped by young people. That could mean 50 new state-of-the-art youth centres, 500 refurbished youth centres or more than 2,000 smaller centres, including mobile units. The funding will be available for every part of the country, and that will start in April. I urge all hon. Members to start working with young people, the voluntary sector and their local community to draw up local plans and prepare to bid for that money.

Finally, to help parents to keep their children safe while playing outside, I can also announce that we will launch a new national play strategy early next year. To make that a reality, from next April we will build 30 safe and supervised adventure play parks in disadvantaged areas. With a total investment of £225 million over the next three years we will also be able to build or upgrade more than 3,500 play areas across the country. There will be an average of 23 per local authority area and seven per constituency. That will be the largest Government investment in children’s play in our history.

With schools, children’s services, the voluntary sector and Government all playing their part and meeting their responsibilities, and with the £1 billion over the next three years we are allocating today to meet our children’s plan commitments, we can unlock the talents and promote the health and happiness of all children, and not just some; back parents as they meet their responsibilities to bring up their children; and intervene early so that no child or young person is left to fall behind. We will make our country the best place in the world for children to grow up. That is the mission of this Government and the children’s plan, which I commend to the House.

May I first welcome those aspects of the children’s plan that provide focused help for the most vulnerable in our society? We support the extension of a child care entitlement to the parents of two-year-old children in the most disadvantaged circumstances. I also commend the Secretary of State for his work on special needs and his plans to improve the provision of respite care for the families of children who are living with disabilities—a cause that is close to his heart, which he has consistently championed. It does him credit.

The Secretary of State is right that our children face a world that is full of greater opportunities and greater risks than ever before. However, the background to the children’s plan, sadly, is a world in which our children are falling behind those of other nations. Last week, we discovered that we have fallen from fourth to 14th in the international league tables for science, from seventh to 17th for reading, and from eighth to 24th for maths. How does the Secretary of State explain why we were in the top 10 for all those subjects when the children sitting the tests had the majority of their education under a Conservative Government, whereas we plummeted down the rankings, relegated to the second division, when those sitting the tests had all their education under a Labour Government? Is not every external audit of our education system a story of Labour failure? Is not it time to acknowledge the limitations of the top-down micro-management and political interference of the old Labour approach and embrace genuine reform?

Today, the Secretary of State announces a review of the primary curriculum to clear away the clutter. It sounds attractive. However, at the same time, the Department is pressing ahead with a pre-primary school curriculum, with 576 different targets for professionals, which prescribes exactly how toddlers should

“rub a rusk around the tray of a feeding chair… show delight by kicking and waving… use gloop”,

which is helpfully defined as,

“(cornflower and water in small trays) so babies can enjoy putting fingers into it and then lifting them out”.

How can the Secretary of State credibly say that he is clearing away the clutter and empowering professionals when he is sticking his fingers into everything and generating gloop on an industrial scale?

The Secretary of State says that he wants parents to be more involved in their children’s education. Does not he realise that that involves trusting, not lecturing parents? Only last week, Ministers blamed parents for our slide in the literacy league tables. Parents should read more to their children, the Department dictated. However, did not the report that showed us falling behind contain no survey of how often English parents read to their children? Ministers criticised mums and dads on the basis of no hard evidence. When it comes to delivering on reading, do not Ministers bear the primary responsibility for ensuring that every child who can is reading by the age of six? Should not we ensure a more concerted drive to hold accountable those schools that do not use tried and tested methods by holding a simple test after two years to ensure that our children are being taught properly?

The Secretary of State accepts that there are flaws in the current test regime, but will his plans for a changed regime, with children taking tests at several different stages in primary school, mean that new tests are shorter than the current key stage 2 tests? If so, how can we ensure that they are not made less rigorous? With independent research from Durham university showing that literacy levels have scarcely improved in a decade, surely we cannot afford any less rigour.

I fear that today will be remembered as a great missed opportunity for the Government. Instead of a clear picture for our children’s future, we have an underwhelming collage, with items stuck on any old how and no underlying vision. Why are there no proposals to give parents the right to take their children from a failing school and place them in a good new school? Why is there no determination to give teachers the power to impose effective discipline by excluding disruptive pupils without having teachers second-guessed by those outside the school? Why, instead of giving more schools academy-style freedoms to innovate and drive up standards, is the Secretary of State still restricting the freedoms of existing academies?

Is not it the case that, ultimately, instead of a broad and deep vision, we have a disappointingly hesitant and patchy programme, which betrays an itch to intervene but no grasp of the genuine problems? Is not it clear that, unless we learn from abroad and reform our education system to meet the challenge of global competition, we will fall further behind and the Government will fail future generations?

I was disappointed that the hon. Gentleman was not as funny as normal. However, to be fair to him, behind the usual scripted gags and froth, there were some serious questions, which I shall tackle. I thank him for his support for the Bercow review and our work to strengthen the provision of SEN support for parents and children. I agree that that is a priority.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s reading of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study—PIRLS—report, which made it clear that there was a responsibility on Government, teachers and parents to ensure that all our children are reading. If he reads the report, he will realise that it is clear that the brightest children are reading less at home. We all—that includes us, as parents—bear a responsibility for getting our children to read more.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that we are plummeting down league tables and that standards are falling. I remind him that, in 1997, when the Conservatives left power, 63 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved the key level in English and that that has now increased to 80 per cent. The figure for maths was 62 per cent. and it is now up to 77 per cent. For English and maths, the figure was 53 per cent. and it is now up to 71 per cent. The number of failing schools has fallen from above 600 to fewer than 30. This Government have delivered rising standards year on year through our reforms—reforms that we take forward and strengthen in this report, so that we can be world class.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about our new making progress assessment. Yes, the tests will be shorter; and no, despite his accusations, there will not be dumbing down, because we are introducing the reform of an independent standards regulator to give parents, teachers and schools the confidence that standards will not fall. As for his charge that we are going backwards on reform and academies, I am accelerating the academies programme, as I say to him every time he makes that accusation. The reform of the primary curriculum in this report is a good reform that will drive up standards in our schools.

I must say to the hon. Gentleman that this is a children’s plan. He mentioned SEN, but he made no reference at all to children’s play, youth services, investing in the early years work force, parent support advisers, our CAMHS review, our changing of the guidance for the building schools for the future programme, the children’s trust, reoffending, prevention or the Byron review. He made no mention of any of those things, which was baffling. I remember, however, him writing a very important article in The Times, in which he said that

“the Conservatives are left embarrassingly mute when parents ask them just what they would do to ease the pressures of family life.”

Those were his words, and he has eloquently proved his point this afternoon.

I have received representations for other reforms. I have had a representation that we should re-impose tests, externally marked, on six-year-olds. I reject that proposal, as do parents and schools, as it would be the wrong thing to do. I have also received a representation that we should hold back for a further year children who do not make the grade in primary schools, but that was rejected in our consultation by teachers, head teachers and parents, because we do not want larger class sizes at 11. We do not want those children who do not make the grade to be held back in primary school; we want them to be helped as they move into secondary school.

I have also received representations that we should abolish appeals on exclusions as that would somehow reduce legalism, but the head teachers tell us that they want to keep the appeals as that would prevent them from being mired in the courts. I have also received representations that we should not go ahead with increasing the education leaving age to 18; I reject those representations. I have had a proposal that we should not introduce new diplomas; I reject that representation. I have also had a proposal that we should cut £4.5 billion from the building schools for the future programme, and therefore put thousands of schools at risk in 76 authorities. Once again, in my consultation on the children’s plan, I reject that representation.

In the end, Government are about three things: vision, policy and judgment. We set out our vision here; I reject the vision of a two-tier education system. I am setting out clear policies here; I reject those wheezes that fall apart under scrutiny. As for judgment, in my view, over the past six months the judgment of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has increasingly come into question.

Does my right hon. Friend agree—or does he know—that the Children, Schools and Families Committee is investigating testing and assessment, and we will be keen to look in detail at his proposals for stage not age tests? Is he also aware that our Committee, as it did in its former incarnation, has consistently pushed for us to do something about the quality of the work force in early years, in terms of both how much they are paid and how they are trained? Much of what my right hon. Friend says today is welcome, but will he give a guarantee not only that the Select Committee will be able to track the progress of the building of the new edifice of a children’s plan, but that a monitoring of staged successes is built into it?

I reassure my hon. Friend, and I thank him for his leadership of the Select Committee. I look forward to appearing before it in early January to answer detailed questions on the children’s plan. I can confirm that we will report back on the children’s plan in a year’s time. In the meantime, our three expert groups will continue their work of monitoring our implementation. We will also involve parents in monitoring our progress.

The issues my hon. Friend raises on the work force are critical. The document sets out a strategy for the children’s work force and, within that, important reforms of the early years work force to increase their standing and enhance even further their professionalism so that it matches their dedication. We want more graduates coming into early years education and these proposals will take that ambition forward.

I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement.

I know that it is traditional on these occasions for Opposition spokesmen to be disappointed by the contents of statements, whatever they contain, but may I genuinely say that many people inside and outside the House will be tremendously disappointed with the plan that he has put forward? After all, if we set it alongside the conclusions of the UNICEF report published earlier this year, which put Britain bottom of the league table of 21 developed countries in respect of child poverty and child well-being, today’s plan emerges as a mouse of a plan to deal with what is, frankly, a mountain of a problem. Even where new policies have been announced, they are tiny in their effect: 20,000 places for two-year-olds set against 650,000 youngsters in that cohort. What we have heard today is not, by anybody’s independent judgment, a serious 10-year plan for children, but a hotch-potch of reviews, recycled announcements from earlier Secretaries of State, one or two gimmicks and a unifying theme that is a belief only in top-down big government solutions.

Why was there no mention in the statement of what is supposed to be the biggest ambition of the entire Government—dealing with child poverty? Is it not absolutely astonishing for a Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to give a statement to this House in which the only mention of child poverty is backward-looking, describing what has happened up to today with nothing at all about policy for the future? Does not that indicate that Martin Narey of Barnardo’s was correct to say yesterday that the Government now seem to be managing the failure to meet the 2010 target? Does it not also underline this Government’s foolishness in deciding in the pre-Budget report to allocate £3.7 billion towards the reduction of inheritance tax, set alongside the £120 million—an almost trivial amount—found for child poverty? Why has the Secretary of State with responsibility for children failed to mention anything forward looking about what used to be one of this Government’s great ambitions? Why do we continue to find that 1.5 million children—almost of half of whom are living in relative poverty—live in households that pay full council tax when the Government have been reviewing and reviewing that unfair tax for years and doing precisely nothing about it?

On the schools agenda, why on earth do we need yet another primary curriculum review? I thought that primary education was supposed to be something that the Government had fixed in their first term in office. We now find that apparently it has not been fixed and that we need another review. What is the review designed to achieve? According to the Secretary of State, it is to allow more time for literacy and numeracy studies, but we already know that 51 per cent. of time in primary schools is spent on those two subjects. Rather than have another pointless review of primary education, why does not the Secretary of State just devolve powers to schools to make those decisions? Is it really necessary for the Whitehall screwdriver to reach into every school in the country, directing schools on how to communicate with parents and even fixing the number of graduates in early years settings? How on earth can it be right for central Government to fix those policies? Why is there nothing in the statement to target extra money on pupils through a pupil premium that would target deprivation? Why is there nothing about more freedom for schools to innovate?

On the children’s services agenda, will the Secretary of State tell us whether his desire to tie in children’s services more closely with schools is going to mean a relocation of responsibility for those services—from primary care trusts and social services, which are not usually very good at interacting with schools, to the schools themselves?

This was supposed to be one of the centrepieces of the Government and their aspirations, yet it has given us an indication of why they are so far adrift, because we have had a 10-year plan for the future of children that is entirely top down, entirely unconvincing and that will not deliver the aspirations that the Government have themselves set.

I believe that when parents, teachers and young people hear what the hon. Gentleman has said, they will find the idea that a £400 million investment in 3,500 play areas and youth clubs around the country is a gimmick very surprising. I think the suggestion that transformation of the life chances of 20,000 children aged two in disadvantaged areas is trivial says more about the hon. Gentleman’s values than it does about our policy. As for the idea that a curriculum review designed to introduce study of a foreign language for every child in primary school, as well as social and emotional aspects of learning—SEAL—teaching through the primary curriculum, is pointless, that too is a reflection on the hon. Gentleman’s politics rather than on our children’s plan.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the child poverty goal. I made a speech about child poverty yesterday. I will not take the time to read it out to the hon. Gentleman today, but the children’s plan makes very clear our goal that child poverty will be halved by 2010 and eradicated by 2020. I will tell the hon. Gentleman how we will do that. We will do it through the national minimum wage that his party opposed, and through the expansion of the tax credit system which he personally has persistently opposed. I will take no lectures from him on the subject of child poverty, given the way in which he has attempted to undermine a consensus in the country about progress in that regard.

As for the idea that we say nothing in the plan about freedom to innovate, the plan is all about schools’ innovating and working with children’s services to tackle all the barriers to learning. As for the idea that we say nothing about tie-in, we say that children’s trusts will take forward that agenda with help at the centre of them. As for the idea that we say nothing about extra money to deal with disadvantage, in his announcement on schools funding a few weeks ago my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learning allocated more money to tackling deprivation, and we are doing the same today.

The hon. Gentleman’s comments told me more about his political positioning in the Liberal Democratic party than it did about the children’s plan. He may wish to reconsider some of those comments in the coming months.

Parents and children all over the country will welcome the new emphasis that my right hon. Friend is placing on the importance of children’s play. Play is important to children’s social development, and to their mental and physical health. What we need now is a further commitment to helping parents to feel secure when their children are out playing. Does my right hon. Friend accept that if we are to achieve that, he will have to work with other Departments to ensure that local, regional and national planners always bear in mind the need for somewhere for children to play safely, and for transport planners to remember that the principal cause of death among child pedestrians is being run over in the road? We need that emphasis too, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will achieve it.

I thank my right hon. Friend, and praise him for the leadership that he has provided in this regard. It was his 2004 review “Getting Serious About Play” that paved the way for today’s announcements.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress the importance of provision for children’s play, and that of the creation of spaces in which children can play safely. In our report and in response to the views expressed to us by parents, we have encouraged local authorities to go further in introducing 20 mph speed limits in areas where children play. We have also encouraged them to think about the way in which they design housing, not just to tackle overcrowding but to ensure that there are proper places in which children can play.

In my view we need children to be seen and heard, and we need to move away from the old-style “no ball games” culture to a world in which there are spaces for them to play. We are funding that today, but it will require leadership at local level. It will also require leadership from Members of Parliament in building coalitions in every constituency to implement the plan’s proposals.

Does the Secretary of State agree that ever since the reforms that introduced the principle of testing particular age groups to national standards and then reporting the results to the public, there has been a consistent campaign against both practices by teachers’ trade unions and large parts of the educational establishment? Labour spokesmen and Ministers, however, have in principle always defended that approach.

Will the Secretary of State explain how his latest announcement of stage not age testing is not yet another serious step back in the face of all the campaigning? Surely it will make it much more difficult for parents to know whether their children have reached the standards expected of their age level, much more difficult for people to have confidence in the quality of the standards being described, and almost impossible for parents and the public to make meaningful comparisons between the performances of different schools.

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes these issues seriously and studies such matters closely. He will be reassured when he studies the detail of the proposals. I have listened to people, including those from the teaching profession, who have put it to me that we should move away from collecting information that allows school-by-school comparisons of performance to be made. I reject that approach—it does not reflect the consensus in this country, including the consensus among parents. That information is essential in order to drive up standards in our schools and to ensure that we tackle schools that are coasting.

That is fully consistent with what we are talking about now—a move towards a more stage-based approach to testing. Such an approach allows children to be tested according to their ability and the level that they have reached. It allows schools to stretch the best pupils further, while ensuring that children who are falling behind are still tested at a level appropriate to them. The information can then be used to make proper comparisons.

I shall give an example in order to explain the approach. If we were to say that all children who are learning a musical instrument, the violin for example, should be tested at 11, in year 6, it would be ridiculous to say that every child would have to take the grade 5 music exam regardless of whether they had started to learn a few years before and were at grade 1 or they were a good musician and at grade 8. It makes much more sense for the music test—the tests will build on this principle—to be based on the progress that the child has made. That in no way makes it difficult for us to compare schools in terms of the attainment levels that children reach. We will ensure that, under our pilots, we test carefully so that we provide information that allows comparisons to be made both between schools and with the past. Our independent standards regulator will ensure that we do that properly.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his welcome statement, which contains some good news for children and families. May I remind him that he has received the report and recommendations of the parliamentary hearings to safeguard the 100,000 children who run away and go missing every year? Will he respond positively to those recommendations by supporting measures to reduce radically the number of children who run away in the first place and to provide immediate safety for children who go missing?

I commend my hon. Friend on the leadership that she has given on this issue. As she knows, we are working closely with the Children’s Society on these matters. In fact, we are implementing some of her proposals by including a national indicator on young runaways in the local government indicator set. That information will be important in enabling us to improve our policy delivery across the country. We are carefully studying her report, which followed her consultations. We shall discuss the details with her, and make a further announcement in due course.

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if he believes his approach to child health services is the first strategy, he ought to ask for a copy of the Court health report, which I believe was published when he was 10, in 1977? He might also read with some advantage the Plowden report on primary schools, especially the research report published in 1967, the year that he was born.

I support what the Secretary of State said about stages rather than just ages—it is perfectly possible to produce age profiles from stage reports. I strongly support the idea that people can reach standards not only in music, athletics and swimming, but in maths, spelling, arithmetic and other forms of mathematics. The sooner we start saying to people that they can soak up information and knowledge, the faster we will undo the damage that I fear was done in most educational reforms made between 1955 and 1985. He should not believe that he is the first person to think that we can get standards back, and put arms around all our children.

I think that I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s kind comments and I thank him for reminding me of my date of birth. I cannot admit to having read the Court report at the age of 10. Opposition Members may have been reading such reports at the age of 10, but I think that I was playing. My point was that we will produce the first ever joint report between the health service and the Department responsible for schools and children’s services on child health. That is important because it will mean that we can integrate health into our parenting and schools policy. That is welcome and, as I understand it, new, and a consequence of the innovation of our new Department.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s comments on progression, I entirely agree with his sentiments. We are seeking to implement those sentiments in the reforms that we set out today. Perhaps the importance of today for that issue is not that it is a new departure, but the commitment from Government to make it happen. That is my commitment today.

I urge my right hon. Friend to reward those schools that take on the most challenging pupils, because otherwise we will not improve standards in the way that we want to in constituencies such as mine. I welcome his statement on communities becoming involved in providing facilities for local young people. Can he say how those local communities will be able to engage with that, and will he ensure that those voluntary organisations that are already engaged in such work, but are struggling to find core funding, are not overlooked when it comes to the funding that he is making available?

Only yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families and I visited the excellent Cardwell primary school in Woolwich, close to my hon. Friend’s constituency. The school is in a disadvantaged community and it is implementing now the vision that we set out for schools in the plan, including ensuring that all barriers to learning, in and out of school, are addressed by the school, the parents and the local community; engaging health services and parents from the earliest years; and working closely with the voluntary sector. In our work on children’s trusts, we want to ensure that the voluntary sector is included with schools and wider services, and that we have a consistent approach across the country to tackling those issues in the way that my hon. Friend sets out. I commend the local authorities in that part of south-east London on the leadership that they are providing on this matter.

I welcome the mention of support for young carers in the Secretary of State’s statement. Young carers underachieve in education because of the enormous burdens put on them in caring for their parents, siblings or both. What is not so welcome is that that group will have to compete for the £56 million a year that has been allocated with parenting advisers for each local authority, undefined family learning and new support for families with disabled children. Will the right hon. Gentleman commit to making young carers a priority for his Department, so that that neglected group of children is given much more support to achieve their full potential?

I can give the hon. Gentleman more details of the plan. If he studies those details, he will see that the plan will build on the £13 million that we have already allocated to young carers, many of whom face huge burdens and difficulties, through the family pathfinders programme. In addition, I will make available through the plan a further £3 million over the next three years so that we can do more to support young carers and ensure that their needs are properly taken into account in our wider carers strategy. We have a detailed plan, supported by specific money, and I hope that he will be reassured when he examines the details.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the plan. I would like him to say a little more about work force reform, because it is important that the very best quality staff work with young children in the early years. It is important that we set an ambition to recruit teachers from the top 10 per cent. of graduates. We have already done a great deal to improve the teaching work force, but we have more to do. We also need a better quality work force looking after children in care, and in youth services. The most difficult problem, in constituencies around the country, is the recruitment of youth workers, because full employment means that many of the people who before would have been prepared to do sessional youth work are now not able to do so, and I want to see—

I can reassure my right hon. Friend that in the plan we are taking forward and enhancing the teach first programme. We are also introducing a teach next programme, which will encourage more excellent people from our wider community to come into teaching. As I have said, in the next three years we are investing more than £100 million in the early years work force. Our commitment is to make teaching a masters-level profession by ensuring that every new teacher studies for a masters qualification, but we will also encourage more teachers who are already in schools to study for a masters qualification. We will make that part of our continuing professional development work and will work closely with unions and heads to make it happen. I hope that when she sees the detail, she will be reassured that we are taking forward the work force agenda, so that we have more excellent people in our schools and in our early years settings.

May I commend the Secretary of State for his commitment to families with profoundly disabled children? Does the children’s plan contain extra capital funding for respite care for such families, and will he say a little more on the subject? Is the money to be ring-fenced for local authorities, and will it be distributed alongside the extra and very welcome revenue funding that he announced earlier in the year?

Within the children’s plan, and on top of the £280 million that we have allocated to pay for an expansion of respite care for families with children with a disability over the next three years, we are now able to allocate £45 million in the next three years to support capital investment in new respite care facilities. That will make sure that the premises where respite care is provided are modernised and get the extra and special equipment that often makes the difference between a family being able to access respite care and them finding that—because of the absence of the right kind of hoist, for example—it is just not possible for them to take advantage of those respite care facilities. The money will not necessarily mean new facilities, but there will be investment in the extra help that those facilities need. We are also expanding the Family Fund to ensure that 16 to 18-year-olds qualify for grants. We think that 16,000 more grants could be made as a result of the announcements.

Through his work last year, the hon. Gentleman rightly put the Government on our mettle on the issue of whether we will deliver for families with disabled children. I hope that we will show him, families with disabled children, and disabled children themselves, that we are on their side. We are investing in extra support for them. When we on the Labour Benches talk about the every child matters initiative, we are talking about every disabled child, too.

May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his commitment to improving the quality of life of all children? I also welcome the introduction of the Children and Young Persons Bill to improve outcomes for looked-after children. Most homes for looked-after children provide very good standards of care, but I am concerned that some reach a barely adequate standard. That is evidenced by the number of children who run away. Does he agree that if we are to drive up standards in the small number of homes concerned, a strong message must be given to failing homes? It should be exactly same message that is given to failing schools: improve or face closure.

The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes, absolutely. We expect Ofsted to be as rigorous in its inspections of children’s care homes as in its inspections of schools. We must ensure that where Ofsted highlights failures in provision, we act. One of the more general themes of the children’s plan is that we need Ofsted to inspect across schools and children’s services, in relation to the range of every child matters objectives and all the measures of well-being, including the way in which schools and children’s services work together. That includes looked-after children.

Why would it be more attractive to parents if a new primary school shares a site with a police station with cells?

I have read the children’s plan, but I do not remember a proposal for police stations with cells. However, the plan does include a proposal for safer schools partnerships, which involve community safety officers and police working in schools to help children be safe in their local communities. We will take that forward, and I hope that every school will belong to one of those partnerships in which the police work with schools. If the right hon. Gentleman shows me where the proposal for police cells in schools is in the plan, I will explain it to him.

Given my right hon. Friend’s response to the every disabled child matters campaign, does he agree that the funding that he outlined should indeed be spent on the services relevant to the problems that exist, if only as an example to other parts of the United Kingdom?

When we conducted our review of the life chances of disabled children and their families, and allocated extra money for respite care and other services, we consulted across the country. Welsh and Scottish MPs were active in those consultations. In fact, my right hon. Friend led our parliamentary consultation with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble). There was widespread expectation that the money would be spent not only in England but elsewhere, and that the Barnett consequentials would be spent on disabled children in other parts of the United Kingdom. That is happening in Wales but, to my knowledge, it has not happened in Scotland, where the funds have been diverted to cut council tax. I am very disappointed indeed that the needs of disabled children and their families are not a priority for the Scottish Executive.

Does the Secretary of State really believe that a nursery school is incapable of delivering the highest quality care unless it employs two graduates? Does he accept that if the English are to become less bad linguists, they must learn the grammar of the English language if they are to have a hope of learning a foreign language? Will he ensure that that comes first in primary schools?

My answer to both questions is yes. Teaching grammar is an important part of literacy in primary schools, and we have allocated money for graduates in the early years setting to make sure that language and communication are an important part of early years learning. If I misunderstood the question, I apologise, but I agreed with that excellent intervention.

In reference to his birth date, may I remind my right hon. Friend that two weeks before he was born, his father and I journeyed up from Norwich to watch Norwich City FC beat Manchester United—a match full of star-studded players—and I think that that had a big effect on his formative years? To be serious, may I ask him about special needs? I welcome the fact that he mentioned dyslexia, but what about autism and Asperger’s? Although those reviews are under way, there are problems now. Every MP has constituents who are struggling to make ends meet and deal with those problems. We cannot wait until 2010, as there is a problem now. We need more schools and teachers, and more help for struggling families.

I thought that my hon. Friend was about to raise the issue of excessive drinking by young adults, which may have occurred on that train on 18 February 1967, after Norwich’s surprise victory as a member of division 3 south against Manchester United in the FA cup—one of the highlights of my pre-life, given that I was born seven days later. Why my father was at the game, rather than at home has always been a mystery to me. [Interruption.] He was with my hon. Friend.

To answer my hon. Friend, we have put substantial amounts of extra money into supporting special needs in this year’s settlement and for the next three years. I have announced reforms to try to improve the way in which we spot dyslexia in the early years of primary school, but following the Bercow review into some of those matters, the Ofsted review will give us an important opportunity to assess whether we are getting that right and whether we need to do even more in future.

Is my right hon. Friend aware how grateful my constituents are that the Government went into listening mode before publishing the children’s plan, by way of reading the written submissions that a large number of my constituents made or through meetings with him and with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who also had meetings with Islington constituents? Of the many suggestions in the children’s plan, they will be particularly pleased to hear that there will be free nursery school education for two-year-olds.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s role in our consultation. I know that a number of Members had consultation meetings with local parents, schools and children and made submissions to the plan. I hope that that work will carry on over the next year, because we need to do more in our local communities to put in place the play facilities and the youth facilities that are needed and to involve parents more in schools. We will ensure that we provide the materials for hon. Members to keep consulting in future.

On nursery care for two-year-olds, I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a major part of our agenda to reduce child poverty and the causes of child poverty, by making sure that from the earliest years children in disadvantaged communities get the support and learning that they need. For those 20,000 children, this will not be a gimmick, but a life-transforming experience.

Given that one in 10 three and four-year-olds are not accessing their free entitlement to nursery places, and that a number of evaluations of Sure Start and children’s centres have shown that the most disadvantaged families are not necessarily being reached, alongside the 20,000 extra places that the Secretary of State announced today, what further measures will he take to make sure that the most disadvantaged are benefiting from these policies?

We are addressing that issue in two ways—first, through the extra work that we are doing through Sure Start to reach out to the families that the hon. Lady describes to ensure that they take advantage of the services on offer. Sure Start has a continual obligation to keep reaching out further into those communities to find parents who need help and are not getting it. The second way is through the investment that we are making in the early years work force. More quality and more graduates in the early years is the best way to persuade parents to take up their entitlement and to do the best by their children. I hope that the measures on quality will encourage many more parents to take up the opportunities available.

I welcome the plan, which is a step in the right direction, but I am worried. In my home town, where we have the brand-new Blyth community college, the go-ahead has just been given for a brand-new academy right next door. I wonder how the college will fare, seeing that academies always get more money per pupil.

To reassure my hon. Friend, academies do not get more funding per pupil compared with other schools. Academies are being taken forward as part of the building schools for the future programme. I have had a number of discussions with him on these matters, as have members of my Department, and I am happy to keep discussing these matters with him to ensure that what we do together is in the best interests of all young people in his constituency.

Order. There are a large number of Members standing. I have allowed up till an hour, and I can go over the hour, provided that the supplementaries are sharp and that we talk not about football matches, but about education.

May I welcome the inclusion of young carers in the plan. A group of young carers from the national young carers forum attended the House last week and told the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), about all the issues that affect their education and their lives. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the expert parent advisers, plus the social care reforms announced by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health yesterday, will help those young people start to enjoy and be free to enjoy their childhood?

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving us more time. That is a reflection of the importance of the plan. I will keep my answers short. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) on her leadership. It was her intervention last week and her persuading of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that ensured that the money was in the plan to support young carers over the next three years.

The House will welcome the recognition in the Secretary of State’s statement of the problems with pupil referral units. If ever there was an example of where, unfortunately, in the past 10 years the most vulnerable people have been let down, it is there. The number in those units has doubled from over 7,000 to over 15,000, yet the number getting a good GCSE is 0.4 per cent. Will the Secretary of State give us some detail about what he will do to ensure that standards rise in those units, and perhaps a little more about the pilots that he would like to see to obtain a proper replacement for them after 10 years of failure for those very vulnerable pupils?

I am going to strengthen regulation; I am going to put £26 million aside over the next three years to pilot alternative forms of provision, including one to see whether studio schools can play a role in this; and, subject to Sir Alan’s further recommendation, I am going to implement the Steer recommendation next year that we should go ahead and make exclusion partnerships compulsory for all schools. That is the best way to ensure that we do right by the education of pupils who are excluded—we need to continue to support them so that they can do well in the future.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s plan, but does he accept that healthy eating is a major contributor to the well-being of our children? Will he support my private Member’s Bill to help tackle obesity, and his ministerial colleague, the noble Baroness Royall, who said in the other place on 27 November that we need a ban on advertising high-fat, salty and sugary foods before the 9 o’clock watershed?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his leadership in highlighting the importance of healthy eating among children, and I can reassure him that, although I will need to consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and cannot give an indication today of the Government’s view on my hon. Friend’s Bill, we will ensure that the wider issues that he raises are taken forward in our child health strategy in the spring.

The Secretary of State knows that one of the most serious shortcomings in our schools at the moment lies in the unacceptably high number of children who move backwards between the ages of 11 and 14. Is it not the case that under his new testing proposals it will be impossible to know whether that situation is improving or getting worse in particular schools?

The exact opposite is the case. Our proposals to test child by child on the basis of level, but also to expect them to move level by level, year by year, will enable us accurately to measure for each child and for the school whether children are making progress and to measure the level that they reach at any point in time. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that on that point he is wrong. Also, I apologise for the fact that there is nothing on grammar schools in the plan.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s proposal for a safe place for every child to play, but is he aware that Slough borough council, when challenged to produce a play strategy, planned to close local play areas rather than repair the dangerous and crumbling equipment in them? Will he place a duty on every local authority to ensure that there are safe play areas in every neighbourhood, and penalise those local authorities that take this opportunity to cut their local play areas?

Given that this is a matter for local decision, if in the end councils of whatever political colour choose not to prioritise children, it is hard for me to intervene directly. If Slough borough council has heard the Opposition’s contribution to this, it may be rather encouraged in its view that children’s play areas are gimmicks and wheezes rather than serious policy. However, we will ensure that Ofsted inspects across all every child matters outcomes, across schools and children’s services, and I encourage my hon. Friend to lead her own campaign with local people to ensure that, through the Big Lottery Fund, she gets new centres and also that play centres are available in her constituency. I fear that she may have to rely on her own leadership if it is not forthcoming from her Liberal Democrat council.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition that CAMHS has a capacity problem. Following the comments of the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), may I ask the Secretary of State to recognise that there is a substantial segment of services that CAMHS cannot offer children and young people with mental health problems? I am thinking particularly of those who have experienced traumatic situations, for example. Will he ensure that the review will give adequate consideration to the funding that voluntary sector organisations need to provide the services that CAMHS will be unable to provide, even post-review?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the important contribution that voluntary organisations make in providing support for such children. I guarantee that such issues will be considered in the review. The review is not about whether we should improve CAMHS, but about how we can do so. In my view and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, the issue is not only about capacity, but about how we use the money to serve children’s needs best. We will ensure that the review is done well and then seek to implement its recommendations.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement on the children’s plan. He will not be surprised that I wholeheartedly welcome his announcement of the £18 million over three years for teacher training specifically for special educational needs.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that my private Member’s Bill is about special educational needs; I hope that it will get a fair wind through the House. Will he consider allocating part of the £44 million, which he announced for the next three years to enable teachers to study for master-level qualifications, to teachers wishing to gain specialist qualifications in special educational needs such as dyslexia?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her leadership. We have spoken about dyslexia issues. As she will know, the money that we announced last week will not only go towards considering how we can spot dyslexia early through the every child a reader programme, but establish whether dyslexic children’s needs are best met through ECAR or specialist dyslexic help.

We are studying the detail of my hon. Friend’s Bill. It is important and I am very hopeful that we will be able to support it.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that young people in inner-city areas such as mine will welcome his announcement on youth service provision. However, does he recognise that one of the things that has bedevilled youth service provision—historically, a non-statutory structure—is that it has always been easy to cut? Although I welcome the fact that big capital schemes are coming on board, it will be necessary to make sure that the revenue consequences are guaranteed and locked in for the long term.

Incidentally, it would be churlish of me to mention that Manchester United has got over the defeat in 1967.

It was the highlight of Norwich City’s 100 years of history.

In taking forward our commitment to 30 adventure playgrounds for eight to 13-year-olds in disadvantaged communities, we are allocating not only capital but £5 million a year in revenue to make sure that there is money for supervision, which is important for such facilities. I agree more generally that it is important to make sure that youth services are properly funded not only in capital but in revenue terms. We are giving a lead, although a lot of the responsibility also falls to local authorities.

My right hon. Friend saw first hand the success of the building schools for the future programme when he visited Bristol Brunel academy—the first BSF school in the country—with the Prime Minister in September. I welcome today’s announcement that there will be new guidance for BSF schools to ensure that, when possible, other services will be co-located with them. Will that apply only to schools currently in negotiations about BSF?

We will do that where possible. I understand, from discussions that I and the Minister for Schools and Learners have had with Partnerships for Schools, that a lot more flexibility exists than local schools and authorities are aware of. We will seek to be clearer in guidance about what can be done. When it is necessary, we will do more on guidance and flexibility to allow co-location to occur. The Minister and I will be happy to discuss with my hon. Friend the detail of any scheme, although the flexibility may already be there.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the children’s plan, which is a progressive plan for young people and children. Five days ago, Richard Angell, Stephanie Peacock and I welcomed 60 young people from all over the country to talk about the new £1 rate to join the Labour party and how the Labour party could employ it to engage more with young people. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that councils will have some accountability to ensure that they consult young people on the delivery and progression of the children’s plan?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the £160 million spent on youth services through our Department and the Big Lottery Fund will be conditional not only on consultation with but on the active engagement of young people in drawing up proposals and their future management. Through her leadership in the all-party group on youth affairs, my hon. Friend has highlighted the importance of engaging young people in the design and implementation of policy, and this is a good example of an area where we will ensure that that happens case by case across the country.

This is an excellent plan. I particularly welcome the youth service proposals and the adventure playgrounds. Will my right hon. Friend say something about the eight-to- 13 age group, who are often neglected in this respect? What will be in it for them?

I mentioned the 30 adventure playgrounds, which will be particularly for that age group. However, the more general point is that many parents are concerned about the transition from primary to secondary school, and many teachers are concerned that some children are not making as much progress as they should in the first and second years of secondary school. We aim for parental engagement in that transition and in the early years of secondary school, and we will be able to address both those issues through these proposals, plus age not stage—[Hon. Members: “Stage not age”]—thank you—stage not age testing and the making good progress pilots. That will help to support the age group that my hon. Friend mentions.

In children’s first years of life, their main educators are usually their parents, not school teachers, and the professionals to whom those parents usually turn for support are not teachers but health visitors. Does my right hon. Friend envisage a central role for health visitors in co-ordinating those other supports for this group of parents?

Health visitors and midwives are playing a central role in many areas, and we envisage their doing so in future in the implementation of this plan. It is very important to bring together education, schools, children’s services and health policy in local areas. We are expanding the family fund to support parents in supporting their children’s learning at home, including in the earliest years. We also want to ensure that co-location of services includes health services in the earliest years. When I was at Cardwell school yesterday, I met people from the PCT and midwives who were doing that for children and families in that part of south-east London. We can make this happen across the country.