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Education (Parental Involvement)

Volume 489: debated on Monday 9 March 2009

11. What steps he has taken to encourage parents in the most disadvantaged areas to participate in the education of their children. (261300)

Parental involvement in education has increased overall since 2001. Almost 3,000 Sure Start children’s centres are now open, providing support in the early years. Access to extended services will be provided by all schools from next year, including parenting support. Personal tutors, online reporting and home access schemes have also improved the home-school relationship in all areas, and many of the 2,300 parent support advisers who are now in place are targeted at deprivation.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. He is well aware that the internet is now being used to educate parents on their children’s education. The Government should be congratulated on the schemes that they are running to aid low-income families in getting that internet access. Can he tell me how the projects are going, and can he also assure me that they will continue and that the families will be looked after, including those parents who need educating on the process?

My hon. Friend is right that good use of technology with a connection at home can be important in assisting learning. Indeed, academic research showed five years ago that that adds as much as half a grade at GCSE. That is why we are rolling out the home access schemes. I look forward to visiting Oldham on Wednesday, which is one of the two pilot areas, along with Suffolk, where the home access initiative has started. In Oldham, 2,000 families have already applied for the money. I look forward to meeting them and talking to them about how they are going to use it.

Last week I visited Oakway school in my constituency, whose catchment area is, shall I say, more difficult. The headmistress put it to me that she had 21 new pupils whose first language was not English. She was frustrated that those children were just sitting at the back of the class learning nothing. What can the Minister do to help encourage her and to ensure that there will be a solution to that problem?

The comments that the hon. Gentleman has made cause me some concern. Those pupils should not be left at the back of the classroom; they should be getting the attention and the language support that they need. I referred in an earlier answer to the around 100,000 extra teaching assistants whom we have now deployed in classrooms in secondary schools alone. In many areas they are being used, alongside others, to give individual attention to exactly those sorts of pupils and to give them support with their language. I remember visiting an excellent primary school in South Swindon, where a range of teaching assistants were being used with an intake with well over 30 different languages being spoken at home. Those teaching assistants were being deployed excellently. The money is there; it just needs to be used properly.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is that if a child’s capacities and potential are largely determined by 22 months, we have got to get parents involved when children are aged from nought to three? What new strategies does he have to get to the nought-to-threes as early as possible, in order to stimulate those children as quickly as possible?

We set out a range of strategies, both in the “New Opportunities” White Paper earlier this year and in “The Children’s Plan: One Year On” at the end of last year, on parental engagement, including for the nought-to-threes. The expansion of children’s centres, which is ahead of schedule, is at the heart of ensuring that in every community we have a children’s centre that is engaging with parents to ensure that children are prevented from being disadvantaged by deprivation at home.