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House of Commons Hansard
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29 October 2012
Volume 552

The Secretary of State was asked—

Apprenticeships

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1. What steps he is taking to increase the quality and availability of apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds. [124975]

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There is growing consensus that, alongside the overall increase in apprenticeships under this Government, we must enhance their quality and make them more employer-focused. I pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who ensured that an apprenticeship normally lasts longer than a year, and is a real job. To enhance availability, we are simplifying apprenticeships, and the National Apprenticeship Service will in future focus more of its resources on engaging with employers.

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Is it not a fact that a lot of those apprenticeships are nothing but a scam? They allow employers to change the name on a job, call them apprenticeships and dodge paying the minimum wage. What is the value of an apprenticeship making sandwiches or packing shelves in a card shop?

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I am a great supporter of apprenticeships across the economy. As the economy has changed over the past few decades, apprenticeships are in the service sector and insurance as well as in engineering and high-value areas. I am sure the hon. Gentleman, like me, is looking forward to the review by Doug Richard into the future of apprenticeships, because we must ensure that quality is at the heart of the apprenticeship offer.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that the number of apprenticeships has gone up by 76% in the past year in Harlow? Far from making sandwiches, many of the apprentices have gone on to full-time jobs.

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I am in favour of sandwiches and in favour of people who learn skills in apprenticeships in all sorts of different sectors. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who held a jobs fair last week. I will be copying what he did in my constituency. I hope he, like me, will go to the meeting on Wednesday to discuss what Members on both sides of the House can do to promote apprenticeships in their area.

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I welcome the Minister to his post. He has large shoes to fill because his predecessor was a passionate advocate for the brief, but I am sure he will do splendidly. Unfortunately, however, recent figures show a 2% drop in the number of apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds for 2011-12. Given the concerns that we share about long-term youth unemployment and the number of young people not in employment, education or training, does that figure show that the Government are failing in their own terms?

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On the contrary, not only is youth unemployment on the latest figures falling—thankfully—but in the last year, we have moved to make apprenticeships higher quality. For instance, 11,000 apprenticeships had no job attached. Is it not far better to have high-quality apprenticeships and sell them to employers to ensure that as many as possible engage, so that we can get the numbers and the quality going up at the same time?

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I, too, welcome the Minister to his position and wish him well in taking over the work his predecessor carried out so admirably. In tightening up the rules on quality, the Government have borne down on some questionable practices. However, they have also tightened up on sub-contracting and sub-sub-contracting to providers. In some areas, particularly rural and peripheral ones, some of those providers are the only providers of such courses. Will he ensure that, where that quality can be guaranteed, those arrangements can continue?

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Pupil Premium

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2. What assessment he has made of the effects of the pupil premium on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. [124976]

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The pupil premium represents a significant investment of £1.875 billion since its introduction in April 2011. We are keen to ensure that schools’ use of the premium leads to real improvements for disadvantaged pupils. We have two evaluations under way—a study we have commissioned from Ofsted and our own external evaluation of the premium’s first year. The findings of both reviews will be available next spring, and will further support our drive to promote best practice.

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I welcome the Minister to his position and thank him for his answer. Fifty-six per cent. of the children at Newington primary school are on free school meals. In the headmaster’s view, the pupil premium has doubled key stage 2 attainment and improved maths and English scores by 41%. Will the Minister give a commitment that the money will be in the hands of the head teacher and not ring-fenced in future?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind words and am delighted to hear of the success of the pupil premium in her local school. I can confirm that we are not going back to the days under the previous Government, who sought to micro-manage each piece of education expenditure.

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Given that the skills that young people have before they go to school will determine how effective they are at school, might the Minister consider extending the pupil premium to cover from birth to five?

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The right hon. Gentleman has a long tradition of passion for and commitment to the early years in education. We are constantly keeping schools and early years funding under review, and of course we will do what we can over time to ensure that youngsters, at whatever stage of their education, have an opportunity to fulfil their maximum potential.

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The pupil premium is an excellent coalition policy to assist children from disadvantaged backgrounds, as is the free school policy. Can the Minister advise us on what efforts he will make to push forward with the free school policy to target areas with a high proportion of students on the pupil premium?

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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is right that free schools are being concentrated in many parts of the country where there is disadvantage and where traditionally the performance of the school system has been weak. That will ensure that many disadvantaged youngsters can attend schools producing an outstanding or at least good performance.

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The SK5 8 postcode in my constituency is the 162nd most deprived neighbourhood out of almost 32,500 in the UK. Children attend three different secondary schools where they significantly under-achieve, and not all are entitled to the pupil premium. The Brinnington educational achievement partnership set up in 2009 has helped to increase the number of children attaining GCSE A* to C from 33% to 75%—quite an achievement. Funding has now ended, but would the Minister look favourably on its bid to the education endowment fund?

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I am delighted to hear about the progress in the hon. Lady’s constituency, and she has ingeniously managed to keep her question in order. If she would care to write to me on that subject, I will certainly look at the issue further. In the light of what she has said about disadvantage in her constituency, I hope that she will welcome the pupil premium, which must be helping schools enormously in her area.

Apprenticeships

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3. How many 16 to 18 year-olds started an apprenticeship in the last year for which figures are available. [124977]

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4. How many 16 to 18 year-olds started an apprenticeship in the last year for which figures are available. [124978]

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Early provisional data show that 126,000 apprenticeships were started by those under the age of 19 in the last academic year.

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Eight hundred and seventy people took up an apprenticeship in Rugby last year, which is an increase of more than 50% since the general election. These are young people who are starting on a process that is vital to them and to the country. Does the Minister agree that, in the same way as for those completing a degree, graduation-style ceremonies should be encouraged as an important way of recognising their achievements?

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I agree very strongly with my hon. Friend. The first graduation ceremony was held at Buckingham palace a fortnight ago, and the next will be at York minster on 12 November. I hope that around the country we will have ceremonies of graduation from apprenticeships to show the value that has been added to young people’s lives by this fantastic programme.

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It is fantastic that there are so many apprenticeships available, but we are not going to get youth unemployment down if youngsters do not avail themselves of the apprenticeships that are available. Does my hon. Friend find it disturbing—indeed, disquieting —that Barchester Healthcare, which is probably one of the best health care providers, has not been able to fill 500 of the 600 apprenticeships that it has offered? Indeed, it took six months to fill one single paid administrative apprenticeship in its Chelsea office.

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The average value of an apprenticeship to the apprentice over their lifetime is more than £100,000, and is often more than a university degree. There has been a sharp rise in apprenticeships in health and social care, but I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the specifics of the case that he raises.

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I started an apprenticeship in a factory, along with 50 others, in the days when it took six or seven years to complete—an experience that the Minister could not possibly be expected to understand. Over the years, the decline in genuine apprenticeships has been catastrophic to Britain’s ability to produce for itself, so what will he do to rebuild the real, quality skills that used to be—not any more—the envy of the world?

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I would have thought that as a former apprentice the hon. Gentleman would welcome the 500,000 apprenticeship starts over the last year. I entirely agree, however, that we must do more to support quality in apprenticeships, for instance by ensuring that they last for a minimum of one year, and I hope that he will work with me to deliver that.

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The Minister will be aware that the recent national apprenticeship scheme pilots achieved a small increase in the take-up of apprenticeships by black and ethnic minority young people, but those pilots have now come to an end. Will he consider using the employer apprenticeship grant to continue to promote diversity and further increase participation by BME young people?

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Matthew Hancock: Apprenticeships are a route for all. I welcome the idea of a bid into the second round of the employer ownership pilot from the sorts of groups the hon. Lady talks about. I look forward to such a bid and will consider it along with all the others.

Early Intervention

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5. What steps he is taking to ensure sufficient funding for early intervention for children aged five or under. [124979]

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7. What plans he has for early intervention spending; and if he will make a statement. [124981]

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We are increasing the overall funding for early intervention from £2.2 billion in 2011-12 to £2.5 billion in 2014-15. This funding should enable local authorities to support early intervention for children under five, including through the new entitlement to early education for two-year-olds.

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What particular action will the Department take to ensure that Sure Start children’s centres retain early intervention support for families, as well as providing targeted services?

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Local authorities are under an obligation to ensure a sufficient supply of Sure Start children’s centres. The overwhelming majority of local authorities, including Liberal Democrat-led ones, have done just that. It is important to recognise that children’s centres work best when they offer a variety of services, from stay and play to some of the targeted early intervention programmes that have done so much to help those children most in need.

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The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists estimates that at just age four there is a 30 million word gap between a child from a deprived household and one from an affluent household. This is the number of words that a child will hear in different environments. Will not language and child development now suffer from the scrapping of the ring-fenced early intervention grant and result in more children starting school at four on an unequal playing field?

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I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Lady’s case. The gap in attainment between disadvantaged children and children from more fortunate circumstances only grows over time and is often a consequence of growing up in households where they are not read to and where they do not have a rich literary heritage on which to draw. However, she is mistaken in thinking that the early intervention grant was ring-fenced. It was not; it was money that was available to local authorities to spend as they saw fit in order to help those whom they considered, on a local basis, to be most deserving.

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Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether the Government intend to abolish the early intervention grant, and what steps they are taking to ensure the quality of provision provided in the early years? It is not simply about providing services but about ensuring that they are of the necessary quality to make a difference, so that disadvantaged children arrive ready for school.

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That is a typically good point from the Chairman of the Education Select Committee. The early intervention grant money has never been ring-fenced and will remain available to local authorities, which have statutory obligations to provide not just children’s centres but particular services, and we will be announcing more steps in due course to ensure that money is spent even more effectively in the future.

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17. I declare my interest in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, Mr Speaker. The early intervention grant has been, and will be, reduced and will be put into the rate support grant. Without a doubt, one thing that is happening is that £150 million is being taken from the localities to the centre. What does the Secretary of State intend to do with that money on early intervention, and will he please meet me, in the not-too-distant future, to discuss that and other early intervention grant matters? [124992]

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Meetings with the hon. Gentleman are always a pleasure—I find myself better informed after every single one. On this occasion, however, I fear that, in the same way as even Homer nods, even the hon. Gentleman errs. The early intervention grant money will increase over the lifetime of this Parliament. The £150 million to which he refers is money that will go to local authorities in order to support the sorts of evidence-based interventions I know he has done so much to champion.

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Even a Conservative councillor described the Government’s approach on this as “typical smoke and mirrors”, and we have heard typical smoke and mirrors again from the Secretary of State today. If we compare like with like—not the money for two-year-olds, which the Government have claimed is new money—what are the figures this year and next year?

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The figure for this year, 2011-12, is £2,222,555,697, which then goes up to £2,365,200,000, so that is an increase from 2011-12 to 2012-13.

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A significant part of that extra money is actually the money for two-year-olds which the Government said was additional money. The figures in the Government’s own consultation showed that the cut would be from the £2.3 billion figure, which the Secretary of State has just given us, to £1.72 billion next year, which is a cut of 27%. Should not the Secretary of State be honest and listen to Merrick Cockell, the leader of Conservative local government, who made a clear point last week:

“this move…will force local authorities to cut early intervention services even further”?

Is that not what is really going on?

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Order. Just before the Secretary of State responds, I am sure that the shadow Secretary of State would accept that the Secretary of State would always be honest with the House. There is no need to ask for a commitment to honesty; that is implicit.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

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The Secretary of State need not sound so surprised.

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I am never surprised when I hear a kind word from the Chair. It is no more than I have come to expect.

Implicit in the hon. Gentleman’s question was the idea that we should reduce funding to extend early education to two-year-olds. I do not believe that is right. I believe it is right that we increase the amount we spend on early intervention from £2.2 billion to £2.3 billion, to £2.4 billion and then to £2.5 billion. That is an increase in anyone’s money.

Studio Schools

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6. How many places he expects to be available in studio schools by 2015. [124980]

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There are currently 16 studio schools open. By September 2013, we expect there will be 30 studio schools open, representing nearly 10,000 new school places. More studio schools will be announced following the current application round, providing an employer-backed academic and vocational offer for 14 to 19-year-olds of all abilities.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and welcome him to his position. Does he agree that studio schools offer young people not only a great academic education, but real-world life experience, and will he therefore join me in welcoming Derby college’s bid to open a school in Heanor?

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I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of what studio schools bring to the offer for young people. I understand that this is the first time that Derby college has applied to open a new studio school. We are very much looking forward to receiving its proposal, which will no doubt be supported vigorously by my hon. Friend. Each application will be considered on its own merits and in comparison with others submitted.

Vocational Education

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9. What steps he is taking to raise the status and quality of vocational education. [124983]

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As Minister for Skills, it is my mission to raise the status and quality of vocational education. Following the Wolf review, we have reformed school performance tables to encourage the take-up of high-value vocational qualifications before the age of 16. From this September, all those in apprenticeships were required to study English and maths, but there is more to do.

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That is utter waffle. Is not the truth that the Secretary of State has downgraded the engineering diploma, excluded practical subjects from the English baccalaureate and has no plans to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) in offering a technical baccalaureate? What do the Government have against vocational education? Is it spreading the privilege a little bit too far?

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I do not think that requiring all those in apprenticeships to study English and maths if they do not have level 2 is “waffle”; I think it is extremely important for improving the rigour and quality of vocational education. Vocational education is vital to this country’s future, and that is why I will put all my effort into championing it.

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Although more girls start apprenticeships than boys, they are very under-represented in some areas. Only 5% of engineering apprenticeships and 13% of IT apprenticeships were taken up by girls. Will my hon. Friend take action to encourage more girls to consider apprenticeships in IT and engineering?

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Yes. I am delighted to say that I have already taken some action, but there is more to do. The first round of the employer ownership pilots included funding for a bid by engineering companies across the country specifically to support engineering apprenticeships and engineering training. I entirely accept the size of the challenge in engineering and ICT. If we say that engineering is not for half of our population, we are never going to have enough high-quality engineers. [Interruption.]

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The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has been chuntering from a sedentary position, to no obvious benefit or purpose—[Interruption.] Order. He was making his point sitting down. Would he like to make it standing up?

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20. Indeed. Would the Minister accept that the withdrawal of funding for the Women into Science and Engineering campaign is not a good idea if we are to be serious about getting more women into engineering and science? [124995]

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No, I do not recognise that point at all. The employer ownership pilots are doing precisely the opposite in the first round. We are looking for more innovative, thoughtful and new ways of ensuring that funding gets to the right places, including to women, where their representation in a particular sector is low.

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A number of organisations have expressed concern that the increased focus on the EBacc will lead to fewer students studying the practical or vocational subjects that are so important for encouraging the next generation of engineers. What can my hon. Friend say to those organisations to allay their fears?

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In the first instance, ensuring that high quality science is taught before the age of 16 is vital to the future of engineering at a later age. More importantly, ensuring that English and maths are there is crucial for vocational and occupational skills for everybody. There is much more to do in that area, but the EBacc is a step forward. It is part of the future provision right across the academic and vocational areas.

Literacy and Numeracy (Attainment)

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10. What steps he is taking to raise levels of attainment in literacy and numeracy for children from deprived backgrounds; and if he will make a statement. [124984]

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The pupil premium provides additional funding—rising to £900 per pupil next year—that helps schools to raise the attainment of disadvantaged children, including in literacy and numeracy. Ofsted will have an increased focus on the performance of pupils who attract the premium. We are also putting in place a new catch-up premium of £500 per eligible child for every year 7 pupil who has not achieved basic literacy and numeracy standards on leaving primary school.

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Halton has seen significant improvements recently in the attainment of those pupils receiving school meals, compared with those who do not. We have also seen a doubling of the number of students getting five or more A to C grades at GCSE over the past 10 years. Resources are of course crucial to all that. The Minister has just mentioned the pupil premium. Can he guarantee that, over the remainder of this Parliament, there will be no cuts in resources going into education in Halton?

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What I can guarantee is that the pupil premium will go on rising every year in this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that, in this current year, more than £2 million of pupil premium funding is going into his constituency, and he will be delighted to know that that will rise to more than £3.3 million in the year to come.

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A car travels, on average, 41.8 miles per gallon. How many miles will it travel on 8.37 gallons? The answer, of course, is 349.866 miles. The problem is that, while 54% of 14-year-olds answered that question correctly in 1976, only 33% did so in 2009, according to a study carried out by King’s College, London. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new draft maths primary curriculum and the new teacher training courses for specialist maths teachers in primary schools will have a significant effect on ensuring that children grasp and understand the fundamentals of maths and arithmetic by the time they leave primary school?

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For a moment, I thought that my predecessor as Schools Minister was going to skewer me at the Dispatch Box, and I began to freeze over. However, I am most grateful to him for his question—and for providing the answer—and for highlighting the important work that the Government are doing to restore the credibility and seriousness of these subjects. I pay tribute to him for the superb work that he has done in these areas over the past two years.

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May I also welcome the Minister back to the Front Bench? I know that he is passionate about this subject, and I look forward to working with him for the benefit of the House and of the country. Last month’s reading recovery annual report confirmed that 9,000 fewer children received reading recovery intervention last year. That means that 9,000 struggling children, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, are not getting the intensive support that they need to support their literacy levels. The Department’s own evaluation shows that reading recovery achieves real results for children, and that it could achieve long-term financial benefits for the Government. Does the Minister agree with that evaluation? If not, why is he happy to sit back while children fall behind?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind comments, and I am keen to work across the House where we can on some of the issues to which the previous Labour Government showed considerable commitment. This Government, however, are trying to put in place a simpler funding system, not only for the baseline funding, but by giving schools through the pupil premium a large amount of additional finance— £2.5 billion by the end of this Parliament—so that schools can prioritise in each setting the mechanism and the intervention that best serves their pupils. Schools will, through the pupil premium, have the moneys for precisely the types of reading recovery that the hon. Lady mentioned.

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My constituency is not getting the full benefit of the pupil premium because many parents are far too proud to access free school meals for their children on account of the stigma attached. What can my right. hon. Friend do to address this problem?

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That is an important point. Research from the Department will be published shortly, which will highlight the massive differences in the take-up of free school meals right across England. In some parts of England there is essentially 100% take-up, while in other parts almost a third of pupils do not take up free school meals. The Government will look at this and work with local authorities and schools to get those figures up.

University Technical Colleges

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11. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of university technical colleges in delivering high-quality technical education. [124985]

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It is early days, but 98% of pupils at the JCB academy, which was our first university technical college, got an A* to C in engineering in their first exams this summer. [Interruption.] I am sure that Labour Members will be delighted by this great success. Many of the sixth formers have gone on to university and higher level apprenticeships. Five UTCs are open, and we are committed to having at least 24 across the country by 2015.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In the last year of the Labour Government, only 17% of young people in my constituency went on to higher education. This December, I am pleased to be officially opening a new university presence in Crawley, which links local employers with local young people through technical education. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Central Sussex college on setting that up?

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I certainly join my hon. Friend in warmly welcoming what has happened at Central Sussex further education college, which is now offering higher education. It is crucial to have more engagement between our employers, our colleges and our young learners in order to ensure that when people leave college, they are ready for work, can participate in the work force and make sure that Britain has the prosperity it needs in the years ahead.

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The EBacc means students are less likely to study technical subjects purely on the basis that schools are less likely to provide them because they will be measured on the narrow academic approach of this new qualification. Surely the way forward should be for all schools to offer vocational qualifications, knowing full well that people do better in their academic subjects when they do vocational routes, which should not be provided only in specialised technical colleges.

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If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence to back up his assertion, I will happily look at it, but having a core of English, maths and the sciences within the EBacc before pupils reach 16 is vital to ensuring that people can go on to a vocational or an academic pathway in the future. It is absolutely central to this Government’s future vision of where our prosperity comes from that our occupational and vocational skills are at the heart of it.

English and Mathematics

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13. What recent progress he has made on ensuring young people leave school or college with a good understanding of English and mathematics. [124987]

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We are developing a new rigorous English and maths curriculum, which will help young people become fluent in the basics. The new phonics test will identify pupils in year 1 who need extra help, and the new year 6 grammar, spelling and punctuation test will ensure the basics are secure.

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My hon. Friend will know that the recent CBI survey showed that 42% of employers were having to provide remedial training in numeracy and literacy to college and school leavers. Will my hon. Friend set out the steps the Government are taking to make sure that these colossal costs to businesses are reduced?

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My hon. Friend has made a good point. The Secretary of State has already said that his ambition is for virtually all students to study maths until the age of 18, and we will introduce a funding condition for students who have not achieved a GCSE in maths so that they can reach that level of aptitude. We will also look at mid-level qualifications for students who have maths GCSEs but do not want to take a full A-level in maths, so that there is an alternative path for them to take.

GCSE English Results

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14. What assessment he has made of the 2012 GCSE English results; and if he will make a statement. [124988]

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16. What assessment he has made of the 2012 GCSE English results; and if he will make a statement. [124990]

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On 18 October, provisional national and local authority level GCSE results for 2012 were published. The percentage of pupils achieving grades A* to C in English had fallen by three percentage points to 66.2%. The independent regulator, Ofqual, continues its investigation into the awarding of English GCSEs this year, and is now looking into why some schools achieved the results that they had expected while others did not. The final report will be published shortly.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) and I recently met teachers and head teachers in Luton to discuss the problems involved in the GCSE results. It is clear that some pupils were not permitted to take the sixth-form courses that they had chosen, as a consequence of their results, and that some schools that made strenuous efforts to improve their English results have actually been knocked back. Is that not a disgrace, and should not apologies be made?

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I share the concern felt by the hon. Gentlemen. We must wait to see the Ofqual report before we can be more certain about what went wrong this year, but it is clear that there were a variety of factors consequent on the design of the examination, and that we need to take steps to remedy them.

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In Hackney, 103 pupils received D grades in English in June. In some cases, classmates at the same schools achieved lower scores in January, and received C grades. In each of the five schools affected in Hackney, at least 85% of ethnic minority pupils received Ds rather than Cs. The Secretary of State talked about looking into why some schools had achieved less than others. Will he look into this very serious matter as well?

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I certainly shall. Hackney has an exemplary record of educational improvement, and when there are inconsistencies such as this, we must look at the evidence to work out what has happened.

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Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I recently met head teachers from North Lincolnshire. Despite an improvement in results in the area this year, they were still concerned about this year’s marking, particularly in the case of pupils who would have found it easier to get an A in January than they did in the summer examinations. Will my right hon. Friend consider the concerns about the situation that will be expressed in a letter from my hon. Friend and me?

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I certainly shall. As we all know, the hon. Gentleman is a teacher with extensive experience of working in some of the toughest schools. I am glad that there has been an improvement in academic results in North Lincolnshire, but yes, there are continuing question marks over the quality of marking at GCSE.

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Questions raised about GCSEs earlier this year place even greater emphasis on the need for rigour in the exam system. Will my right hon. Friend encourage other parts of the United Kingdom to follow suit, and does he agree that clarity is needed for pupils and students, universities and employers, so that they compare equally?

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My hon. Friend has made a very good point, and I look forward to working with the Welsh Assembly to ensure that standards there can be raised to the level enjoyed by students in England.

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18. If the legal action against Ofqual is successful, and it is decided that pupils were treated unfairly—which the Secretary of State himself believes, although he refuses to do anything about it—what action will the right hon. Gentleman take? [124993]

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I would not wish to pre-empt any judgment in the courts.

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We know that the Secretary of State is in a good mood, because yesterday was his favourite day of the year, when he gets an opportunity to turn the clock back without anyone being able to complain. Why does his new Schools Minister have no responsibility whatsoever for GCSE English, or even for the curriculum? Is he too ashamed to defend the Government’s position on the GCSE English scandal, is he too busy at the Cabinet Office polishing the Deputy Prime Minister’s shoes, or does the Secretary of State not trust him?

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That was a three-part question, and I shall use both sides of the paper. Yesterday was, in fact, a sad day for me: I was in mourning because, sadly, Queens Park Rangers lost to Arsenal, who, with 10 minutes to go, scored a goal that I can only conclude was offside. It was a day of mourning for the Gove household. The Schools Minister, however, is fully involved in all discussions in the Department for Education in every policy area. The two of us are singing from the same hymn sheet, which is, of course, what we should be doing every Sunday, whether or not the clocks go back.

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The Arsenal result was extremely satisfactory and I was there to observe it.

Mathematics Teaching

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15. What steps he is taking to improve the quality of mathematics teaching in schools. [124989]

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I agree that mathematics teaching is a major issue. It is the subject with the highest teacher shortage, and we know that maths skills are vital for students. We are working to attract top graduates, with bursaries of up to £20,000. By increasing maths take-up between the ages of 16 to 18 we will increase the pipeline of people going into the maths teaching profession.

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Does the Minister agree that teaching factual financial education, such as calculating APRs and tariffs, should be an integral part of the maths curriculum, and will she meet me to discuss the work of the all-party group on financial education for young people?

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I completely agree that it is very important for students to be financially literate. In order to be financially literate they need to be mathematically fluent. That is why we are going to have higher expectations in topics such as using and understanding money, working with percentages, and positive and negative numbers. We are also looking at limiting the use of calculators in the early years of primary school so that students achieve proper fluency in calculations. I believe I am due to meet my hon. Friend in only a couple of minutes’ time, but I am happy to have a further meeting with him on this issue.

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Great maths teaching was instrumental in enabling me to go on to a career in STEM, and it is absolutely critical in helping us to rebalance our economy. The Secretary of State is turning our locally accountable schools into academies, so can the Minister tell me what minimum qualifications or standards she will put in place for maths teaching in academies?

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What is important in academies—and, indeed, in all schools—is that we give the head teachers the maximum autonomy and flexibility to recruit the best possible people. As the hon. Lady knows, the issue we face is that although maths is the highest earning subject at degree level and A-level, it is very hard to recruit teachers. We are looking at every possible avenue to increase the level of people coming into studying and teaching maths. That will increase the pipeline, which in turn will make sure academy head teachers have the best possible pool of teachers to draw on.

Academy Schools

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19. If he will take steps to prohibit local authorities from preventing schools from converting to academy status by requiring a 20% pensions fund surcharge for non-teaching staff. [124994]

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Pension contribution rates for non-teaching staff are determined by local administering authority fund managers. In a joint letter in December 2011 my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and for Communities and Local Government made it clear that no academy should pay unjustifiably higher employer pension contributions than maintained schools in their area. The letter also made it clear that other options would be considered if high rates persisted.

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Northumberland county council is blocking schools that wish to go to academy status. Will the Minister review the December 2011 evaluation of this problem and then meet with me and interested representatives from my constituency who wish to turn to academy status or are considering doing so?

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I am concerned by what my hon. Friend says about his local authority blocking those schools that wish to go to academy status, and I can tell him that Department for Education officials are continuing to work on this issue with Department for Communities and Local Government officials. I would be delighted to meet him and others to discuss this matter. It would not be acceptable for local authorities to use this move to impede schools that wish to go to academy status.

Worcestershire Schools

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21. If he will make it his policy to reform the funding formula for schools in Worcestershire. [124996]

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In March the Secretary of State announced our intention to introduce a national funding formula during the next spending review period. In the meantime, we are simplifying the local funding system, and I hope I was able to reassure my hon. Friend during a Westminster Hall debate last week that we are committed to introducing a national funding formula and to doing so at a pace which is manageable for all schools.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. I just want some reassurances, on behalf of the parents and young people of Redditch, that finally, after 13 years of Labour failing to deal with the issue, we are going to address the national funding formula. I also wish to invite him to come to Redditch to see some of our fantastic schools, which do a very good job in difficult circumstances.

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I would be delighted to visit the hon. Lady’s constituency, and I can guarantee her that, after many years of the previous Government failing to address this very unfair national funding formula, this Government will, in the next spending review period, ensure that there is a fair formula for the whole country.

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I am grateful for those assurances from the Minister, and I welcome him to his place. He mentioned the next spending review period. Does the welcome extension of the minimum funding guarantee not give the Government the opportunity to move even faster and to take steps towards a fairer funding formula now?

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My hon. Friend is right to say that we already need to take those first steps towards a more rational and fairer formula. We are doing exactly that by reducing the huge number of existing variables in the formulae across the country to a much smaller number. That is the first step in moving to a fairer formula for the whole country.

Literacy and Numeracy (Attainment)

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22. What steps he is taking to raise levels of attainment in literacy and numeracy for children from deprived backgrounds; and if he will make a statement. [124997]

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I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a few moments ago to the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg).

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I am just a simple bricklayer, so can the Minister explain to me why he thinks unqualified teachers in free schools and academies will raise standards, but at the same time he feels it necessary to impose tougher tests on teachers in other state schools in order to achieve the same thing?

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We announced last week measures to raise the quality of teachers across the board, and I think those received a warm welcome across the country. In the past, the standards for going into teaching have been too low. It is sensible to raise those in all schools across the country.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [125000]

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Last week, I had the opportunity to write to hon. Members from Leicester and Derby inviting them to join me in raising standards in those cities, specifically by making sure that underperforming primary schools can be converted into academies. I look forward to working with those Members in the coming weeks.

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This year, only 11 out of the 2,000 pupils who took A-levels in Knowsley took A-level physics, which compares with 971 who did so in Hampshire. Even when the population size is taken into account, I simply do not believe that pupils in Hampshire are 22 times more scientifically gifted than those in Knowsley. Will the Education Secretary commit to a one nation policy in which every pupil, regardless of their background, will be encouraged to study rigorous qualifications, as opposed to the previous Government’s two nation policy, which exposed this educational divide?

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May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to the Education Committee? He is a distinguished historian and a long-time campaigner for improved access to rigorous academic subjects for all students. He is absolutely right to say that we inherited a frankly inequitable situation, and I hope that we can work across the House to resolve it.

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The whole nation has been shocked by the allegations of child abuse surrounding Jimmy Savile, but Labour Members are also deeply concerned by the similarities with recent cases such as the one in Rochdale, where power relationships were exploited and cries for help were ignored. It has become clear that the BBC is just one of many organisations with questions to answer, so will the Secretary of State back our calls for a public inquiry, in order to gain justice for the victims and to ensure that in future young people are both empowered to speak out and listened to when they do so?

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I do not think that any of us should seek, for any moment and in any way, to relativise the seriousness of the charges that the hon. Lady raises. The BBC certainly has some issues to investigate, and two inquiries are being undertaken there. Separately, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner has been conducting her own inquiry into the exploitation of young people by groups and gangs. I want to make sure that we can consider each of those reports, but I rule nothing out.

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T2. Does my right hon. Friend agree that parental engagement in children’s education is vital in raising standards? Will he continue to develop the close ties that exist between schools, parents and pupils? [125002]

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Ensuring parental involvement in children’s education is critical, and one way that that can be improved is through regular reporting of pupils’ progress. That is why I deprecate the action that has been taken by the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which works against parental involvement by inflicting a work to rule on members.

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T3. This summer, 97% of students at Bristol Metropolitan academy achieved five good GCSEs, which is a phenomenal improvement over the past few years. Sadly, only 37% achieved five good GCSEs in English and maths, but 46% would have done so if they had sat the exams in January. That means that the school is now below the floor standard, whereas it would have been above it. Is that not grossly unfair, particularly for those pupils who worked so hard to try to get that grade C? [125003]

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question and delighted that pupils in that academy are improving their education. As I have said before, the structure of the GCSE examination that those students sat, which was designed before this Government came to power, was unfair.

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T5. I think I detect a bid for the regrading of football scores from the Secretary of State. Will Ministers confirm that the Government will do everything they can to ensure that the Southwark and Lewisham college campus site in Bermondsey gets not only a continuing further education college but a university technical college and, if space permits, a secondary school, too? [125005]

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Yes, I can. I know that my right hon. Friend has met colleagues in the other place, and my colleagues in this place and I are happy to meet him too to ensure that we can sort this problem out.

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T4. Does the Secretary of State share my concern at a recent Ofsted report that showed serious and ongoing issues in Birmingham social services? There is good news, however, in that under new leadership Birmingham is now showing greater vigour and strategy in addressing those issues. How can Birmingham be assured that it will have the resources it needs to address those issues, particularly given the doubt over matters such as the early intervention grant, which was discussed earlier? [125004]

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First, let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that, because the early intervention grant is rising, the money will be there to ensure that safeguarding responsibilities can be discharged. Birmingham local authority has, under different political colours, had problems in both school improvement and child protection. I want to work constructively with local councillors and local MPs to ensure that we can make some improvements. Investment is required, but so is a far more rigorous attitude towards dealing with the circumstances in which many children at risk of abuse or neglect find themselves.

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T9. A number of schools in my constituency struggle to get some of their pupils to grade C standard at GCSE, and some of the head teachers to whom I have spoken are concerned that the rigorous standards of the English baccalaureate certificate will prove unattainable for some of those pupils and might be discouraging, particularly for those who at age 11 are five years behind on reading? Will he assure teachers in my constituency that he is committed to raising standards for all, that those pupils should not be discouraged and that the EBacc is not out of reach? [125009]

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My hon. Friend makes a fair point, and that is why we are introducing additional support for all children who are behind their expected level of achievement at the age of 11. That additional support will go to those secondary schools that need it. I must be honest, however, and if there are primary schools in Wiltshire in which children are five years behind their expected reading age, that is just not good enough. The responsibility rests with the head teachers of those underperforming primary schools. If secondary teachers are saying that they cannot transform those children’s education in some of the wealthiest parts of Wiltshire, he should have a word with those head teachers, because as far as I am concerned they are falling down on the job.

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T6. May I go back to the Minister’s answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) about tough new tests for new teachers? Will he clarify whether that will apply outside the state system—for example, to free schools? Will he answer that question directly? [125006]

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Those schools that are already outside the state system—independent schools—have the opportunity to hire people who do not have qualified teacher status. That has led to Brighton college, for example, hiring a nuclear physicist. I am sure that the students in Brighton college and the parents who pay for that education are only too appreciative of it, and if we can have the same degree of spirit, invention and flexibility in the state sector, great.

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I welcome the provisions on special educational needs in the draft Children and Families Bill, but will my hon. Friend carefully consider the case for a national framework within which those commissioning the new local offers can operate, similar to NICE guidelines in the field of health, for example?

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I know my hon. Friend is a deeply committed and understanding champion of children with special educational needs and disabilities. He will therefore be aware that we have 20 pathfinders across 31 local authorities that are testing the formulisation and delivery of the local offer. We will examine their findings carefully to help sharpen up the development of the local offer as we go forward.

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T7. Considering the need to preserve our Olympic legacy, what does the Secretary of State have to say to those 150,000 people who signed a petition against his plans which will come into force this Wednesday to scrap minimum size regulations for school playing fields? [125007]

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I admire their passion, but they are wrong.

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Many children from my constituency with severe learning difficulties attend Doubletrees school in St Blazey. It has been reported to me that the move from EMA to bursaries for 16 to 19-year-olds represent a fall in funding for that school. Will he meet me to discuss their concerns?

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I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman.

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T8. Bearing in mind that the Secretary of State has already said that the results of the GCSE fiasco this year were unfair, who would he advise the 137 pupils in my city who have had manifest injustice done to them as a result of the marking fiasco to put their faith in—him, to put the matter right, or the legal action against Ofqual? [125008]

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It is anyone’s right to pursue action through the courts if they believe that is the only way to secure a remedy, but the point that I would make, and have consistently made, and a point which was reinforced by the Chairman of the Select Committee, is that the design of those qualifications was flawed from the start, and it was not this Government who designed them.

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I am sure that forward thinking and value for money are part of the Department for Education’s thinking. With that in mind, does the Secretary of State agree that it would be silly to remove permanently surplus places in secondary education, when it is known, as is set out in question 24, that youngsters coming through the system will need those places in three or four years’ time?

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I think my hon. Friend has specific concerns about issues in his constituency in relation to some of the smaller secondary schools. I would be happy to meet him to discuss whether there is some way that we can support his understandable desire to make sure that there is capacity for future children in those schools.

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The Government’s decision to transfer funding for two-year-olds’ nursery education to the dedicated schools grant will mean an additional cut of 27% for the early intervention grant. Leicester will lose £4 million in 2013. It will have no option but to reduce support for children’s services and the troubled families programme. Can the Minister explain how this will get kids ready for school, promote social mobility or save taxpayers’ money in the long run?

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I should have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome the additional investment in making sure that the very poorest two-year-olds receive 15 hours of free pre-school education—something that was never achieved under the previous Government. [Interruption.] I notice all sorts of sedentary chuntering from the Opposition Benches but there is a direct challenge to the hon. Lady and to the shadow Secretary of State. Last week I asked whether they would work with me in order to convert underperforming primary schools in her constituency into academies. She has said nothing yet. People are waiting. Is she on the side of reform or of a failing status quo?

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I welcome proposals to continue the teaching of maths to age 18, both for those who get a grade C GCSE and for those who do not. Are any practical changes required in the timetable of those who go into employment at the age of 16 if they are to be able to continue to do maths and possibly literacy up to the age of 18?

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The Government have already committed to a funding condition for students who do not achieve a C at GCSE to continue to study maths until 18 either in or not in employment. I am also concerned about the cohort who achieve a GCSE grade C in maths but who do not want to go on and study A level. We need to make it clear that there are qualifications for them, too.

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I am interested in the logic of the Secretary of State’s position. If he believes it is right that academies and free schools should be able to take on whoever they like on the strength of the opinion of the head teacher, why is that not right for local authority schools? And if he believes it is right that we make the teachers’ training qualification more difficult, why is it right that academies can opt out of that?

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Order. The hon. Gentleman is supposed to be an egalitarian. One question will do—an equal distribution of the available fruits.

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I, too, am an egalitarian, which is why I believe that academy status should be extended to every school that believes in improving outcomes for its children.

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As Wiltshire’s education settlement has historically been underfunded, we look forward to the new school funding formula, but Wiltshire council is concerned that it might have unintended consequences, especially in relation to support for small schools, so will the Minister please meet me to explore any scope for discretion in how the council can go about making those changes?

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I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss these matters. He will know that in the past couple of weeks the Government have made two announcements to try to ease concerns in this area: first, we have committed to reviewing the funding formula for 2014-15; and secondly, we have promised to continue the minimum funding guarantee beyond 2015.

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The special educational needs proposals currently under pre-legislative scrutiny will water down the scope of the SEN tribunal, weakening the rights of parents to get the help they need. Will the Minister give a commitment today to ensuring that parents of children with SEN do not lose out?

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The hon. Gentleman should look carefully at the draft clauses and the subsequent regulations and code of practice that will follow, because it will be clear from all that that the tribunal processes will be strengthened, particularly for those over 16, who currently have little course for redress.

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In the 2012 GCSE results more students in Medway achieved five or more A to C grades. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the parents, students and staff on that achievement?

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I absolutely will. It proves that, even in tough circumstances, with strong leadership children can do better.

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What evidence informed the Secretary of State’s decision to propose the removal of coursework and controlled assessments from the examination system?

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A huge weight of evidence showing that the very best schools recognise that the most effective way of ensuring that children can be motivated is by having linear qualifications.

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I, like many others in South Essex, believe that one way to improve educational outcomes in Basildon would be through the provision of a UTC specialising in both engineering and logistics. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he would welcome and support an application for such a college in Basildon?

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Yes, I absolutely will. There is a commitment to have 24 UTCs by the end of this Parliament. The deadline for applications is next month and we hope to be able to announce which UTCs will go ahead by Easter.

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I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that children learn properly when they eat properly, so does he share my concern that already more than 1 million children who live in poverty are not eligible to claim free school meals—a figure that is likely to increase next year with the introduction of universal credit? Has he made it clear to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that he should be seeking to extend eligibility rather than restricting it?

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I have enormous respect for the right hon. Gentleman. We are working across Government to ensure that as many children as possible who are eligible for free school meals receive that very important benefit and that it continues to go to those who deserve it.

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Does the Secretary of State accept that the effects of the GCSE fiasco are now being felt by students not directly involved, because schools in my constituency are having to fund a legal action against Ofqual, because the Government, unlike the Welsh Government, have failed to act?

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I have already made clear to the House my view of the mistakes the Welsh Education Minister has made. All I will say once again is that the flaw in the qualification was in its design, and it was not this Government who designed it.