The Secretary of State was asked—
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): Earlier this year, the Government published an adoption action plan aimed at reducing delays in adoption by legislating to prevent local authorities from spending too long seeking a perfect adoptive match, by accelerating the assessment process for prospective adopters and by making it easier for children to be fostered by their likely eventual adopters in certain circumstances. We will also introduce an adoption scorecard to focus attention on the issues of timeliness linked to a tougher intervention regime.
Mark Pawsey: I compliment my hon. Friend on his Department’s excellent work in bringing a new focus to the adoption process in the interests of both children and adoptive parents. Often in the past, however, a major obstacle has been the lack of advice and information for families hoping to adopt. Will he update the House on his plans to introduce a national gateway for adoption?
Tim Loughton: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments. He has taken a great interest in this subject and brought constituents to meet me about it. He is right that part of the process is to ensure that the public are better informed about the virtues of becoming a foster parent or adoptive parent. For that reason, earlier this year we set up a website, “Give a Child a Home”, on which there is all sorts of information. We will add to and improve that to encourage more people to come forward as prospective adopters. It is a big ask but a wonderfully fulfilling thing to do.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): Children placed for adoption often have very complex needs, and the love and care that adoptive parents offer is sometimes not enough. What more can be done to support adopting parents to ensure successful adoption outcomes?
Tim Loughton: The hon. Lady is right; she also has great personal experience in this area. It is important that we ensure that more children for whom adoption is a likely destination are considered for it. Equally, though, we have to ensure that parents who come forward as prospective adopters are given proper training and support before, during and after the adoption process. I am particularly keen to encourage adoption agencies to work on adoption support services—we are looking at social impact bonds with a specific focus on that—to ensure that that help is there and that the adoption is permanent.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Adoption services in Northamptonshire were recently branded by Ofsted as inadequate and failing to meet national minimum standards. With only 68% of children being placed within 12 months, Northamptonshire is 110th out of 142 local authorities. Will my hon. Friend ensure that
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local authorities not doing the job properly are pursued relentlessly until their systems are up to the appropriate national standards?
Tim Loughton: The simple answer is absolutely yes. It is frustrating that despite examples of good and best practice in local authorities up and down the country in a matter where speed is of the essence and where people are focused entirely on the best outcomes for children, there are other local authorities—I fear that my hon. Friend’s is among them—where that is not the case. The adoption scorecard will ensure that local authorities that are not pulling their weight or doing the best by children are named and shamed, and ensure that they get their act together and up their game, because it should be in the best interests of the children.
Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): Ofsted’s latest report also stated that there was little evidence that delays were caused by social workers seeking the perfect match, which the Government have so far focused on. Rather, Ofsted mentioned parties to court proceedings demanding repeat assessments because they lacked confidence in social workers’ reports. What are the Government doing to tackle the issues that are really slowing up adoptions, rather than simply chasing easy headlines?
Tim Loughton: Given how much work we did before the general election, and how much we have done since, on the whole gamut of adoption, the hon. Lady will know that chasing easy headlines is the least of my concerns. I am concerned about getting a better deal for children who find themselves in the care system through no fault of their own. That means dealing with children’s services departments that are not treating adoption as a priority, dealing with the family justice system, which is too slow and tardy, and ensuring that every step of the way we are focused on getting the best outcomes for children who find themselves in the care system. That is not an easy headline; it is something that the Government place a great priority on.
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The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): We are making a record investment of more than £7 billion in 2012-13 to fund a place in education or training for every 16 to 18-year-old in England who wants one. In addition, we are investing £126 million to provide a new programme of intensive support for the most vulnerable 16 and 17-year-old NEETs.
Dame Joan Ruddock: Will the Minister congratulate Lewisham council on its highly successful NEETs programme and, in particular, the 150 successful apprenticeships, which stand in stark contrast to those exposed by the “Panorama” programme in “The Great Apprentice Scandal”? What will he do to root out the very poor providers that still exist in this country?
Mr Hayes: The right hon. Lady will know that this Government have done more on apprenticeship standards than any previous Government, including the one she supported. Minimum lengths for apprenticeships; statutory national standards; every level 2 apprenticeship moving to GCSE English and maths equivalent; tighter frameworks—these are things that the last Government could have done, but did not. Record growth, record standards—she should be proud of that, as we are.
Paul Blomfield: As the latest apprenticeship figures show, the Government are failing to make progress among 16 to 18-year-olds. Will the Minister therefore join me in congratulating Sheffield city council on its scheme for young people who are not in education, employment or training, which has created 100 new apprenticeships this year and promises 100 more next year, and will he urge other councils to follow that example?
Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is a great authority on these matters, and he is wise enough to know that he needs to get his figures right if he is to quote them in the House. Although they are provisional, the latest data, for the first two quarters, show that apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds continue to rise. That is not a surprise, given that over the last two years those young apprenticeships have risen by over 30%. Doing the best by young people—that characterises all that this Government do.
Alex Cunningham: At a time when nearly 12% of young people in the Stockton borough and 1 million nationally are not in education, employment or training, surely removing the requirement for schools to provide vital work experience for their pupils is a regressive step. Will the Government now do the right thing and reverse this bizarre policy?
Mr Hayes: I agree with the hon. Gentleman: it is right that we have work experience as one of the tools at our disposal, and I congratulate Stockton North, where the number of apprenticeships has risen by 76%. I know he will be very proud of that; however, he has been beaten by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock). As I think she said, in Deptford apprenticeship numbers are up 106%. What a record! What progress! What a Minister!
Lilian Greenwood: In my constituency, Nottingham city council has developed the employer hub, to ensure that public investment leads to job and training opportunities for local people, especially the young unemployed. Should not
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the Minister and the Education Secretary learn from Nottingham city council and put the full weight of their Department behind calls for apprenticeship guarantees in government procurement as a way of helping to reduce those not in employment, education or training?
Mr Hayes: The hon. Lady will know that I know Nottingham very well, having been a county councillor there for 13 years, and I am well aware of the economic profile of that city. I am also sure she will be aware that, together with the Minister for cities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), I launched a new initiative in Nottingham—city apprenticeship hubs, which combine the work of local authorities with the work of the private sector and the work of government to boost apprenticeships in just the way she describes.
Mr Hayes: Absolutely, and that is why this Government have placed unprecedented emphasis on quality. I repeat—for the sake of clarity, Mr Speaker; no more than that—that we have said that all apprenticeships should be on an employed basis. The last Government did not do that. They believed in programme-led apprenticeships —faux apprenticeships from a faux Government.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Through the youth contracts and apprenticeship programmes, which the Minister has already mentioned, the Government have demonstrated their commitment to tackling these problems. Is the Minister working with Departments across Government to ensure that those programmes reach into the most deprived urban neighbourhoods, and also isolated rural communities?
Mr Hayes: My work across Government is constant—almost endless. In particular, we are working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions. Of course, I am a Minister in two Departments—I am not just a one-Department man, but a two-Department man—so the relationship between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Education and the DWP is critical to ensuring that our skills policy works across Departments.
Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): The Minister will be aware that good careers advice and guidance are critical in tackling this problem. What are the Government doing to ensure that such advice and guidance are embedded in local communities and available to all young people?
Mr Hayes: Mr Speaker, you will know that, over the Easter break, while others were enjoying eggs and buns, I was launching the national careers service—a new, all-age service and the first ever in England. It will give impartial, informed, well-researched advice to people on learning, education, training and jobs.
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Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): The explosion of apprenticeship places is indeed welcome, but small businesses in particular have difficulty taking on apprentices. What is my hon. Friend doing to help small businesses to take them on?
Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend is right: Britain’s small businesses are the backbone of our economy and of our communities. In the light of that, we are reducing the bureaucracy associated with apprenticeships and, excitingly, we are giving a special apprenticeship bonus of £1,500 to every small business that takes on a young apprentice.
Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister mentioned the launch of the national careers service. Will he tell the House whether the proportion of 14 to 16-year-olds receiving face-to-face careers advice will be higher or lower this year compared with last year?
Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman knows that we have put in place new statutory guidance for schools which, for the first time, insists that they secure independent, impartial careers advice and guidance. That is a massive step forward and I know that he will want to welcome it. For my money, face-to-face guidance is an important part of that.
Stephen Twigg: So it will be lower. Careers England described the much-delayed guidance to which the Minister has referred as “dismal”. Is not the reality that Government action has ended statutory work experience, closed the Connexions service and left no guarantee of face-to-face careers advice? Is this not yet another example of this Government kicking away the ladder of opportunity for young people in this country?
Mr Hayes: The national careers service is the first all-age service, and the previous Government could have introduced such a service; there were calls for them to do so on many occasions. We estimate that its website will get 20 million hits a year, and that its telephone helpline will get 1 million calls a year. I expect 700,000-plus people to benefit from the face-to-face guidance that the hon. Gentleman describes. New professional standards will also be set out for the careers industry for the first time. That is progress by any measure, and he should acknowledge that.
Regulatory Burden (Schools)
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): The Government are committed to reducing regulatory burdens on schools. We have already removed a range of unnecessary duties via the Education Act 2011 and, subject to parliamentary process, we will remove further burdens in September. In addition to reducing regulations, we have cut the volume of guidance issued to schools by more than half, removed the lengthy self-evaluation form and the financial management standard in schools, and introduced a streamlined inspection framework. We have also made it clear that neither the Department nor Ofsted expects teachers to produce written lesson plans for every lesson.
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Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that response, but does he think it fair to describe his Department’s performance as meriting a capital alpha for effort while it is still getting only a gamma minus for achievement? In particular, will he look again at the deregulation of admissions criteria, at the pupil numbers that schools can have, and at the whole issue of grammar schools and free schools that are still calling for more freedoms?
Mr Gibb: That sounds like Greek to me! The Department deserves an A* for what it has achieved. We have already removed statutory burdens. Performance targets have gone. Changes have been made to consultation on the school day, and it is no longer necessary to appoint a school improvement partner or to prepare and publish a school profile. We have also abolished the absurd rule requiring parents to be given 24 hours’ notice of a detention. We have abolished the requirement to join behaviour and attendance partnerships, and we have removed 20,000 pages of guidance from schools. We have more than halved the guidance going to schools—
Mr Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the Minister of State, but can I ask him not to keep swivelling round? The House cannot hear what he is trying to say, although we wish to do so—[ Interruption. ] We are grateful to him, for the time being.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I do not object to regulation as much as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) does, so may I suggest one additional regulatory burden for schools—that every school and every child should have statutory and proper sex and relationship education? Notwithstanding the falls of recent years, this country still has a five times higher level of teenage pregnancy than Holland, and a quarter of this year’s terminations were by girls under 18. Please let us move forward.
Mr Gibb: I know that the hon. Gentleman is passionate about this subject. Sex education is compulsory in schools, but we are reviewing the personal, social, health and economic education curriculum and how the subject is taught to improve the teaching of PSHE. That is what will cover the issue that he raises.
Mr Bone: The Department for Education employs more than 1,500 people in London and occupies five buildings worth more than £33 million. If the Secretary of State relocated most of the work to Wellingborough, he would work in a friendly and pleasant town, save a small fortune in accommodation costs, yet would be only 50 minutes away from London. Why not take it up?
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West Exe Technology College
6. Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What due diligence his Department conducted on the governance arrangements at West Exe technology college in Exeter when considering its application for academy status. 
The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): West Exe technology college received an academy order because the school satisfied the Department’s published criteria for conversion to academy status, but the Department was alerted to matters that bear on the school’s conversion. Concerns were raised specifically about staffing practices. The local authority is therefore auditing the school’s finances and the school’s conversion is on hold, pending the outcome of that work.
Mr Bradshaw: The Secretary of State may recall my speaking personally to him in the corridor behind your Chair, Mr Speaker, a year ago. I said that the first school in my constituency to apply for academy status, and the one most impatient to do so, was the one whose leadership I had most concerns about. Yet the Department, in its apparent due diligence, saw no reason not to give the school initial approval. Does that not show that the due diligence process used by his Department is wholly inadequate?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the care he shows in ensuring that every school in his constituency finds itself in the right position and has the right status. When an academy order is granted, it is a rules-based process; if a school satisfies certain criteria, it is appropriate that an academy order be issued in most circumstances. Subsequently, however, a number of concerns—beyond those that the right hon. Gentleman rightly raised—are being investigated. At the conclusion of that investigation, I will make sure that the right hon. Gentleman, as the constituency Member, and others are informed about the decision that is eventually taken.
Academies and Free Schools
Chi Onwurah: A free school is being proposed in Newcastle right next to an academy that was built only three years ago. Additionally, primary and secondary schools across the constituency are being forced to convert to academy status against the wishes of parents. Now that the city council finds that it faces a legal bill of hundreds of thousands of pounds for these conversions, will the Secretary of State assure me that the council tax payers of Newcastle will not have to pay for the chaos he is imposing on our educational system?
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Michael Gove: The council tax payers of Newcastle have already paid in the past for the failure of that local authority to raise standards in schools to a level seen in other local authorities, including Gateshead, for example. It is critical that we raise standards in Newcastle and we will do so by welcoming new educational providers, including those who propose free schools. We will certainly do so by tackling underperformance at primary level. For far too long, the last Government tolerated primary schools that were generating children who left at the age of 11 incapable of reading, writing and adding up properly. I have no tolerance for that sort of nonsense, which is why we are acting now.
Mr Wilson: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that figure. I must tell him, however, that at a recent council meeting in Reading, the Labour administration launched an outdated left-wing assault on the academies programme. Given the clear benefits of academy status, will he condemn that backward-looking element of the Labour party and reaffirm the Government’s commitment to putting children first, not party-political dogma?
Michael Gove: That is an excellent point. Now that more than half the number of secondary schools are either academies or en route to becoming academies, those who attack the academies programme are attacking the majority of state schools in the country. It is a pity that there are people in the Labour party who are enemies of state education at a time when so many great head teachers are taking advantage of academy freedoms to raise standards for all.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): Nothing has more impact on children’s achievement at school than the quality of the teaching that they receive. We are raising the bar for new teachers, helping existing teachers to improve, and, when teachers cannot meet the required standards, making it easier for head teachers to tackle underperformance.
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Damian Hinds: As my hon. Friend says, far the most important factor in the quality of teaching is the presence of our dedicated teachers. Will he consider widening access to taster sessions for potential teachers, both to attract more good people to the profession and to give more people a chance to decide whether it is really for them before committing themselves to a BEd or a PGCE?
Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Teaching Agency’s new school experience programme for people who are considering teaching maths, physics, chemistry or a modern language at secondary level provides precisely the opportunities to which he refers. It gives participants an opportunity to observe teaching and pastoral work, and to talk to teachers about day-to-day school life. More than 800 people have benefited from the programme so far, and many more placements are planned for the future.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Last week I listened with interest to a Radio 4 programme about the use of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading in schools. It was clear that there was a fundamental difference between the philosophies relating to education and teaching methods which had not yet been resolved. Does the Minister accept that until we solve that problem, we will not overcome our fundamental problems in education?
Mr Gibb: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Getting reading right in primary schools is fundamental to children’s future education. That is why we have introduced match funding for primary schools—£3,000 per school for new training and materials—and why every six-year-old will undergo a phonic check this June so that we can ensure that we spot the children who are struggling with reading. We are determined to end the scandal of one in 10 boys leaving primary school with a reading age of seven or less.
Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): We should celebrate and support the best teachers in our schools. Is the Minister aware of research by the Sutton Trust which shows that if a below-average teacher can be raised to the average, the impact on the lifetime earnings of that teacher’s classroom can amount to more than £250,000? The importance of teaching is critical not only to our society, to our culture and to social justice, but to the economy. What more can the Minister do to improve the quality of teaching?
Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend, who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, is absolutely right. We are doing a huge amount to raise the bar both for entry to the teaching profession and for continuing professional development. That is what is behind the whole teaching schools programme. Already 218 schools have been designated teaching schools, which promote peer-to-peer training. The Government are determined to restore the centre of academic life to our schools.
Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): The quality of teaching is indeed the single most important determinant of a school’s success, and it is vital that we attract the very best teachers to the most challenging schools. Schools already have significant flexibility when
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it comes to pay. Does the Minister agree that regional pay would make it harder to attract the best teachers to the most challenging schools?
Mr Gibb: I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s question. We have asked the School Teachers Review Body to consider the issue—[Interruption.] Yes, those independent experts are examining the issue of regional pay. We will submit evidence to them, as will the trade unions, and they will report to the Government in September.
Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Graduates with first-class degrees in shortage subjects receive higher teacher training bursaries than those with second-class degrees. Is there any research evidence showing that those with a first-class degree are better teachers than those with a second-class degree?
Mr Gibb: There is evidence that teacher subject knowledge has a direct bearing on the attainment of pupils. There is also a correlation between the degree classification and the propensity of trainees to finish their course. There is also evidence from around the world that the highest performing education jurisdictions are those that take their trainees from the top 10% or top quarter of graduates.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The Minister will have read the OECD’s recent report showing that teacher status, pay and professional autonomy are key to teacher success and the learning of pupils. The Prime Minister tells us that we should follow the lead of countries with excellent records in this regard, such as Finland and South Korea. What is the Minister doing to increase teacher pay and professional autonomy?
Mr Gibb: The entire academies programme is built on the autonomy of the teaching profession; that is the essence of the programme. We want a well-rewarded teaching profession in order to attract and retain the best people, and we are determined to achieve that. Of course, because of the legacy left behind by the last Government, which the hon. Lady supported, we are having to take some very tough decisions right across the public sector. Despite all the problems left by the previous Government, however, in education we have maintained spending on schools at flat cash per pupil, and in addition to that we have the pupil premium, which amounts to a significant sum of money.
Mr Gibb: We have already allocated a number of places in the graduate teaching programme for service leavers, and we are working with the Ministry of Defence on schemes to encourage more service leavers into teaching through graduate and undergraduate processes. The skills and experience members of the armed forces have are crucial to raising standards in our schools, and we are determined to tap into those skills.
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14. Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the likely effects of changes in tax credit eligibility on the supply of early years and out-of-school child care. 
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Sarah Teather): Eligibility for tax credits will change with the reduction of the earnings threshold and the increase of the minimum working hours for couples to 24 hours per week. These changes do not affect eligibility for the child care element of working tax credit. The Department does not consider that the impact of these changes on the supply of child care will be significant.
Kate Green: In my constituency, about 1,500 families have lost child tax credit and 465 families face the loss of working tax credit if they cannot find more hours. Parents coming to my surgery have told me that they may have to give up work and therefore their child care places as a result. What will the Government do to monitor the impact of these changes on the child care markets, particularly in areas of high unemployment?
Sarah Teather: As I have said, the change in hours should not have an impact on the child care element, because the hours remain the same in terms of the eligibility for the child care element of the tax credit. All local authorities have a duty to ensure that sufficient pre-school and after-school child care is available in their areas. However, we are monitoring this situation very closely and looking at capacity in disadvantaged areas, as we are rolling out a significant increase in the amount of early years education available for two-year-olds.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): According to the National Day Nurseries Association insight report, 65% of nurseries reported decreased occupancy levels towards the end of 2011—when parents were feeling the impact of slashed child care tax credits—leaving more than one in 10 settings with occupancies of less than 50% and therefore at serious risk of closure or of having to increase prices for the remaining parents. As more than 1 million families are counting on losing child tax credit or working tax credit this month, what are the Government doing to ensure that all child care providers are not driven out of business by falling occupancies?
Sarah Teather: What has had the most impact, unfortunately, has been some people losing their jobs, which inevitably affects the demand for child care in the areas concerned. However, the most significant impact on the early years sector, and in particular the private providers, will come from the roll-out of the two-year-olds offer, which I mentioned a few moments ago. That amounts to a very substantial increase in the amount of money going through early years settings. A significant number of places will need to be created. There will be some areas that are under-occupied, of course, but there will also be very significant demand for places for two-years-olds in some settings, and many in the sector are seeing this as a huge opportunity.
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Rural Schools (Funding)
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): The Government recently held two meetings with delegations to discuss education funding and the issues faced by schools in rural areas. I met a delegation of hon. Members to discuss funding for rural areas following a debate in Westminster Hall on 8 February. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the f40 group, which represents the lowest-funded authorities in England, to discuss Government proposals on school funding reform.
Miss McIntosh: May I thank my hon. Friend for that reply but point out that North Yorkshire is one of the lowest funded and most sparsely populated local authorities, and that it has the highest cost of fuel in the country so there are tremendous problems in getting children to school at the moment? Will he please review this issue as a matter of extreme urgency?
Mr Gibb: I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns about funding in North Yorkshire, which is ranked 114th out of 151 authorities, with its schools receiving £4,786 per pupil compared with the national average of £5,082. The current system is unfair. It is opaque, which is why the Government’s announcement at the end of March begins the process of moving towards a fairer system with reforms to the local formula. We intend, ultimately, to move to a national funding formula, but of course in the current economic climate, stability has to be a priority.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): For the academic year 2010-11, final data for young people aged under 19 show that there were 110 apprenticeship starts in Hove constituency, which is an increase of 8% on the 2009-10 figure; 15,720 apprenticeship starts in the south-east region, which is also an increase of 8% on the 2009-10 figure; and 131,700 apprenticeship starts in England, which is an increase of more than 32% over the past two years.
Mike Weatherley: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the outstanding progress he has made in promoting apprenticeships. The previous Government provided for so-called “apprenticeships” without even a requirement for apprentices to have a job. Will he reassure me that under this Government the requirement to be in proper work will remain the core of our apprenticeship offering?
Mr Hayes: One of the first things I did when I became a Minister was to insist that apprentices should be employed, in order to end programme-led apprenticeships. They were the hallmark of the previous Government’s
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approach, as was recently highlighted in the programme referred to a few moments ago.
“We warmly welcome the Government’s focus on Apprenticeships and its…guarantee”
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): As I said earlier, the Government have published “An Action Plan for Adoption”, which aims to reduce delays in adoption by legislating to prevent local authorities from spending too much time seeking a perfect adoptive match; accelerating the assessment process for prospective adopters; and making it easier for children to be fostered by their likely eventual adopters in certain circumstances. We will also shortly introduce an adoption scorecard to focus attention on the issue of timeliness; this is linked to a tougher intervention regime.
Mark Lancaster: I commend the Government on the action they have taken to speed up the adoption process, but concerns remain about the level of support provided to families after that process. Will the Minister therefore expand on the action the Government will be taking to support families once they have actually adopted?
Tim Loughton: My hon. Friend raises a very important point, which was covered slightly in my earlier answer. I am concerned about getting good pre-adoption support, peri-adoption support and post-adoption support, because the worst thing that can happen is a breakdown in adoption. There is scant evidence about breakdown in adoptions, but some of the highest-performing adoption agencies in the country, be they local authority or independent, are those that invest in adoption support, which means that adoptions do not break down. That results in not only a financial saving for that authority, but, more importantly, a social gain for the child, who gets a safe, stable and loving home—permanently.
Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I was recently contacted by some adoptive parents in my constituency who unfortunately are experiencing a breakdown with one of their adopted children, many years after the child was adopted. They felt that they were not given enough information before the adoption, particularly about attachment issues. In the push to increase the speed of adoption, what will the Minister do to ensure that the preparation for adoptive parents is not too fast and that the right information is given to enable them to deal with the issues when children are placed?
Tim Loughton: The hon. Lady, too, is an expert on this subject. In trying to provide better timeliness, rather than leaving a child in limbo in care when there is no safe way back to their birth family, we will not sacrifice
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quality. We will beef up the assessment process so that prospective adopters are given a clear insight into what becoming an adoptive parent is all about. If they are up for it, they should be helped and supported through the process as quickly as possible. It is necessary to ensure that a suitable match is provided, which they are capable of taking on, along with all the support that needs to go with it. It is a false economy—financially and, more importantly for the child, socially—not to do that.
Parental Choice (Schools)
18. Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure that more parents in (a) Sittingbourne and Sheppey constituency, (b) the south-east and (c) England are able to send their children to their first choice of school. 
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): The latest figures show that almost 86% of parents in England were offered a place at their first preference school starting in September 2012. That compares with 83% for Kent, 87% for Medway and 85% for the south-east overall, but it still means that 74,000 children have missed out on a place at their first choice school, so the broad thrust of our education reforms is to increase the supply of good school places.
Gordon Henderson: I am grateful for that answer. Will my hon. Friend go further and encourage local authorities, when considering appeals for the 2012-13 intake, to take into account the recently updated school admissions code for 2012, which shows a commitment to prioritising previously looked-after children but will not come into force until 2013-14?
Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend is right to say that we have changed the admissions code so that not only looked-after children but previously looked-after children—those who were in local authority care but who have subsequently been adopted—are given priority in the admissions process. The change is designed to help speed up the adoption system and recognises the difficulties that those children have encountered in their early childhood. Appeals are based on the admission arrangements in force at the time, and so for 2012 they will not include a priority for previously looked-after children.
Elizabeth Truss: Schools are paid 12% more for offering A-level media studies or psychology than for offering A-level maths or further maths. Given that we have the smallest proportion of students from 16 to 18 studying maths of any country in the OECD and given that maths is the subject in which we have the greatest teacher shortage, does the Secretary of State agree that we should have a subject premium for A-level maths?
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Michael Gove: With characteristic acuity, my hon. Friend puts her finger on precisely the scale of the problem we inherited from the previous Government. The system for funding sixth forms was dysfunctional, subjects that deserved better support, particularly mathematics, were not receiving it and we needed change. I am not in favour of a subject premium such as that outlined by my hon. Friend, but I am in favour of the approach outlined by Professor Alison Wolf in her report on improving vocational and technical education.
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The Young People’s Learning Agency and the Department for Education have recently released data that reveal that in 2011-12 sixth-form colleges received approximately £4,500 per student whereas schools and academies received £5,600 per student. When will the Secretary of State act to address this anomaly and discrepancy?
Michael Gove: We have already acted. The hon. Gentleman was the distinguished principal of an outstanding further education college, so I know that he will be pleased that we are equalising funding between all sixth-form institutions. Sixth-form colleges and further education colleges do wonderful work. For too long, they have been Cinderellas, but under this Government they are at last going to the ball.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): In 2011, 57 mainstream maintained secondary schools in England entered no pupils for a full course GCSE or iGCSE in history or ancient history. We have introduced the English baccalaureate to encourage schools to increase opportunities for pupils to study history as part of a core of key academic subjects and early evidence suggests that the measure is already having a positive impact on pupils’ subject choices.
Iain Stewart: I recently spent a day shadowing an inspirational history teacher at the Hazeley academy in my constituency. If my hon. Friend would like to see a good example of a school offering history in its curriculum, may I urge him to visit the school?
Mr Gibb: I would be delighted to return to my hon. Friend’s constituency to visit the Hazeley academy. I agree that it is vital that the history curriculum should enable pupils to know and understand the key events of our country’s history. It is one of the issues that the curriculum review is destined to address, and I look forward to seeing inspirational history being taught at the Hazeley academy.
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The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): High-quality vocational education is vital, underpinning economic growth, and vocational qualifications must enjoy the same rigour as academic qualifications. If we are to build the status of practical learning, it is critical that they do so, and that is why, alongside our focus on apprenticeships, we are incentivising schools to offer the best vocational qualifications to provide a high-quality and respected route into employment and further and higher education.
Julian Smith: Andrew Cummings, head teacher of the excellent South Craven school in my constituency, is concerned that the current focus on purely academic subjects is threatening that school’s focus and efforts on vocational learning. I have tried to reassure him—can the Minister help?
Mr Hayes: I know of the good work of that school, and my hon. Friend has been a doughty champion of that good work. He is right that good vocational education is as important as good academic learning. For too long, we conned ourselves into believing that only through academic prowess could people gain a sense of worth and purpose. I believe it is time to elevate the practical; this Government will do so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): Last but not least, parents who home-educate their children have always taken on the full responsibility for their education and the Department does not provide support for home-educated children. Local authorities have the discretion to provide support for home-educated children with special educational needs or to enable a young person to attend college or access another education provider. Where they provide significant support, they can claim funding through the dedicated schools grant.
Duncan Hames: As the Minister says, it has always been so, but given that home-educating parents face a number of logistical challenges in putting children through exams, including with invigilation and coursework evaluation, it is of dismay to them that the cost of entering a child for a single GCSE exam can be as much as £115. Why is it that children who are educated at home do not have their exam entry fees paid for by the Government when the Government do pay those fees for children who are educated at school?
Tim Loughton: As I have said, my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for schools is looking at the whole system of home-educated children, and local authorities have the discretion to make those grants where they think it is appropriate but it has never been the role of Government to provide that support to home-educated children. Perhaps the key to all this is to
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make sure that every school in this country, in the maintained sector in particular, is so good and there is such a good choice that all parents will want to send their children to the local school and will not feel it necessary to home-educate their children.
The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): It is good news today for the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). In December 2009, Campsmount technology college in his constituency suffered significant fire damage, but today that school is reopening as a result of the reforms we have put in place. The cost has been significantly less than it would have been under the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme and the school is opening on an accelerated time scale—proof once again that this coalition Government are reforming in the interests of all children.
Luciana Berger: Labour’s education maintenance allowance helped thousands of students to meet the costs of further education but this Government have scrapped EMA, abandoning young people who are desperate to fulfil their potential. In Liverpool, Labour’s mayoral candidate Joe Anderson has pledged to work with local schools and colleges to introduce a city-wide EMA scheme. Will the Secretary of State back Labour’s plan and admit that his Government were wrong to scrap EMA?
Michael Gove: It is always a pleasure to hear from the voice of the Mersey. I am delighted that the Labour candidate for the Liverpool mayoralty, Mr Anderson, has endorsed the extension of academy schools in Liverpool and I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in working to ensure that those schools transform outcomes for young people. Education maintenance allowance has been reformed by this Government and as a result of those reforms we have seen—[Hon. Members: “Scrapped!”] I am so sorry that Members take such a negative and cynical view; it does not suit them. Education maintenance allowance has been replaced by a form of support for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds that is more effectively targeted and has seen them achieve even better.
T5.  Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Kirtana Valabhaneni from West Kirby grammar school for girls, along with Danny Wheeler, Sam Mills, Asher Winterson, Gokhul Ramakrishnan and Cameron Douglas from Calday Grange grammar, on winning the BAE Systems leadership award in this year’s Big Bang national awards? Will my right hon. Friend explain what the Government are doing to encourage such budding scientists in schools and to promote future science jobs?
Michael Gove: It is fantastic news, and I am delighted that another female representative from a Merseyside constituency is accentuating the positive, because there is a lot to celebrate in state schools on both sides of the
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Mersey. We are supporting an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics by paying more to high-quality graduates to teach those subjects.
T2.  Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): There is overwhelming evidence of the negative impact of poverty on children’s educational attainment and, in turn, on their life chances and ultimately how long they can expect to live. In my constituency, nearly 6,000 children are affected. With the assessment of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that child poverty is set to increase under this Government, what is the Secretary of State’s estimate of the impact on the educational attainment of those children?
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Sarah Teather): That is precisely why we have introduced the pupil premium: £2.5 billion targeted at the most disadvantaged children. It is also why we are rolling out 15 hours of early education for all two-year-olds. To pick up the points the hon. Lady mentioned, we know that high-quality education will make a real difference to the life chances of those children.
T6.  Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to read the report, chaired by Priscilla Chadwick, on the future of Church of England schools? Does he agree that the recent changes in education introduced by the Government provide opportunities for the continuing involvement of the Church of England in education, particularly in delivering distinctive and inclusive new academies?
Michael Gove: I absolutely agree. Education on both sides of the border was driven in the first instance by the vigorous missionary activity of Churches, and we praise and cherish the role of the Church of England in making sure that children have an outstanding and inclusive education. I welcome the report, and I look forward to working with Bishop John Pritchard to extend the role of the Church in the provision of schools.
Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): How many of the free schools currently planning to open in September, and seeking expressions of interest from parents on that basis, have not yet signed contracts for specific premises?
Michael Gove: Of the free schools that are planning to open this September, more than half have agreed sites, 21 are in negotiations about sites and four, including one in the hon. Lady’s constituency, do not yet have sites. That is significantly better progress than at this time last year, yet we went on to see every single free school that was advertising that it would open opening in time.
T8.  Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Earlier, I just failed to seduce the Secretary of State to come to Wellingborough, but may I tempt him a little more? He would escape from the Westminster bubble and would be in the heart of England, surrounded by Conservative councils and best of all—or nearly best of all—there would be no Liberals; but the real bonus would be that daily he would get the advice of Mrs Bone. Surely there could not be a better opportunity.
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Michael Gove: It is one of the many causes of envy in my breast when I contemplate my hon. Friend to know that he has the benefit of Mrs Bone’s advice at the breakfast table every day. All I can say is that Northamptonshire has many, many attractions—chief among them, of course, Mrs Bone—but the matter of whether the Department should relocate is properly one for the permanent secretary.
T3.  Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State think that granting a licence to one of the Chuckle Brothers to set up a free school was one of his better ideas, and now that it has been rescinded how much did it actually cost to progress the project?
Michael Gove: I am surprised that the hon. Lady is so opposed to northern comedians, given that her party has been such a fantastic platform for so many of them. It was not one of the Chuckle Brothers whom we invited to open a free school in Rotherham, but the vice-principal of a very successful school in the north-east. In the end, that lady decided to withdraw her application, but the fact that someone who is strong in the variety world wanted to back it is, to my mind, proof that increasingly, when people from whatever background look at the Government, there is a smile on their face as they contemplate our achievements.
T9.  Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s plans to give up Whitehall control over the A-level syllabus and empower our top universities to restore the gold standard. Does he agree that grade inflation under the last Government fooled no one, and served to devalue the currency of our children’s education?
Michael Gove: That is a very good point. The reforms that we hope to make to A-levels, in tandem with the work being done by higher education institutions, will, I hope, once more restore confidence in these valuable qualifications.
T4.  Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Some 75% of UK schools contain asbestos, and more than 140 teachers have died as a result of mesothelioma over the past 10 years. Will the Secretary of State explain what measures his Government have taken to avoid future asbestos-related deaths in our schools?
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and he has a strong record in campaigning on these issues. We want to make sure that everyone who teaches in schools built when building standards were lower has the support that they need. The changes that we have made to building regulations are intended to ensure that schools built in future are fit-for-purpose and refurbished appropriately. I am happy to ensure that officials and Ministers in my Department liaise with him to make sure that teachers and children are protected from unfit buildings.
Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): If the permanent secretary is considering moving the Department to Northamptonshire, may I recommend Towcester or Brackley? We had a fabulous team win at the Chinese grand prix this weekend.
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To come to my point, on adoption, does the Minister agree that, given what we now know about the development of a baby’s brain, it is absolutely essential that, wherever possible, a baby gets the best chance of attaching to new adoptive parents by being adopted before the age of two?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): My hon. Friend, who within and outside the House is an expert on attachment, is absolutely right. That is why, for young children in the care system for whom there is clearly no safe way home to their birth parents, getting a good-quality, strong, attachment in adoption as speedily as possible is absolutely essential, so that they have a good chance of a safe, stable, healthy upbringing with a loving family—something denied to them by their birth parents.
T7.  Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): In the constituencies of Newcastle upon Tyne Central and Hackney South and Shoreditch, and in many other constituencies up and down the country, applications have been put in for free schools—bids for taxpayers’ money with which to run a school for children. When will the Secretary of State publish the financial plans that those schools have submitted, or will he continue with the secrecy of the Department, which does not publish the plans until the schools are open?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for asking her question, and particularly grateful for the warm welcome that she showed me when I recently went to her constituency to visit the school of which your chaplain, Mr Speaker, is such an effective chairman of governors. All funding agreements for all free schools are published on the Department for Education website. Further information will be made available as funding agreements and other contracts are entered into.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): I recently launched an apprenticeship challenge in my constituency, encouraging local businesses to provide 50 new apprenticeships by the Olympic games. What can we do to break down barriers and get more apprentices into small and medium-sized businesses?
The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): My hon. Friend is doing a great job in promoting apprenticeships in his constituency, and the whole House will want to celebrate that fact. He is right that small businesses sometimes perceive the risk of taking on apprentices as being greater than larger firms do. We need to make the process much simpler and take out the bureaucracy. We have provided a toolkit and put financial incentives in place, but we will go still further to ensure that in every village and town, every business has the chance to take on an apprentice.
T10.  Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): It is important, when individuals and groups apply to open a free school, that proper checks on them are made. Can the Secretary of State give me guarantees that those checks are in place?
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extremism unit—which exists specifically to ensure that those people who may come from a fundamentalist religious background or from an intolerant tradition are prevented from having access to public money. Whether they are intending to set up a free school or to subvert the operation of an existing school, safeguards are in place. They can always be better, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman and everyone else in order to ensure that public money does not go into the wrong hands.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): One in a Million free school in Bradford is due to open in September and I know that the people involved would very much like the Secretary of State to come and open it, but before he does that, would he agree to meet me so that we can discuss the capital allocation to that school and make sure that when it opens in September in a part of Bradford where it is much needed, it opens with a chance of giving the students there the best possible opportunities?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend is one in a million and I look forward to meeting him. I think there is an opportunity in the diary at 11 o’clock this Wednesday for us to have a cup of tea. I am committed to doing everything I can to improve education in Bradford. It is a great city and it has some great representatives.
Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will be as quick as I can. Will the Secretary of State have a look at the 16-to-19 funding formula as applied to Darlington college and make sure that it has been done correctly?
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): My colleagues in London are arguing that there should be youth hubs across the city, open five days a week and in the evenings and at weekends for young people to receive advice and support. Whoever wins the London elections and is elected to the Assembly, will Ministers support that proposal so that young people can have better services across the capital city?
Tim Loughton: My right hon. Friend has been a great champion of some of these youth centres and he has one of the soon to be 63 myplace centres in his constituency, which have been such successful hubs, and which I hope will be open during the whole week and at weekends for as long as there are young people who want to use them—a policy that was started by the previous Government but without the funding that has been secured by this Government to make sure that they all open.
Tim Loughton: I hope it will help all prospective adopters who are capable of offering a good quality, stable, loving family environment for that child. I have been trying to bust all the myths that people of a certain age or a certain weight or who happen to be smokers or
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not are instantly vetoed from being adopters. That is absolutely not true. If people of a certain age think they can offer a home to a child, I would encourage them strongly to come forward and see if they are up for it.
Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Last week I presented certificates to 12 young people in my constituency who had completed the Prince’s Trust team programme, a programme designed to help those not in education, employment or training gain the skills and the confidence to return to the world of work. Does my hon. Friend agree that such programmes are an invaluable tool in getting young people back to work?
Mr Hayes: Absolutely. Third party organisations, notably the Prince’s Trust, do an extremely good job in providing such support and good quality information, opening up opportunities and giving people a sense of what they can achieve. I congratulate them and my hon. Friend for drawing their work to our attention.
Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): The Government recently started X-raying children whose age is in dispute, despite an overwhelming body of medical evidence that this practice is unethical, exposes children to harmful doses
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of radiation and is entirely ineffective in determining a child’s age. As the Minister responsible for safeguarding and the welfare of children, will he tell the House what he is doing to ensure that this appalling trial ceases with immediate effect?
Tim Loughton: The hon. Lady is right to raise concerns. As she knows, this is led by the Home Office but which, because of our concern about safeguarding children, the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) and I have held discussions with the Minister for Immigration. It is essential that we have proper checks and controls on people coming into this country, particularly for adults who are masquerading as children in order to come into this country, but that it should in no way be seen to be damaging to those people. We have to achieve that balance. My hon. Friend and I are determined that we do that with the Home Office.