HC Deb 11 December 1997 vol 302 cc1166-8
2. Mr. Coaker

What plans he has to assist schools in areas of deprivation and disadvantage to raise standards. [18747]

11. Ms Dari Taylor

What plans he has to raise standards in schools in areas of disadvantage. [18757]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

In our White Paper, we spelled out a series of measures that would raise standards and achieve our literacy and numeracy targets, including the development of the standards fund, which we have now published, and the 200 literacy co-ordinators across the country. Last week, we published the School Standards and Framework Bill, which laid out our plans for education action zones, through which we can target additional help, pilot best practice and draw together the whole community to ensure that every child in every school gets a decent education, wherever they live.

Mr. Coaker

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that one of the crucial concerns for the education action zones to address will be the fact that schools serving exactly the same sorts of areas of social deprivation—whether urban or rural—achieve vastly differing results, in examinations, truancy and exclusion levels and many other indicators? We need to ensure that all schools in those areas achieve their very best if the comprehensive ideal is to give all our children the start in life that they deserve.

Mr. Blunkett

I agree entirely. We have a bigger gap between success and failure than any other country in the developed world. Spreading best practice, developing quality leadership and headship in schools and ensuring that teachers have the professional development and in-service training necessary to do their jobs are all part of the agenda for transforming education in this country.

Ms Taylor

I am pleased to welcome the education action zones. We should appreciate knowing when the criteria for the education action zones will be published and what they will be.

Mr. Blunkett

I shall, within a matter of weeks, publish the detailed criteria for local communities, schools and education authorities to respond positively and in an innovatory fashion to the request to them to consider how they can use the zones to improve education in urban and rural areas. We shall of course spell out the detailed terms of reference. I hope that people will think imaginatively about how to tackle the long-standing under-achievement that has regrettably blighted the lives of some children in some parts of our country.

Mr. Viggers

Is the Secretary of State aware that this morning I read the brochure "Investing in Young People: A Strategy for the Education and Training of 16 to 18 year-olds" which he sent me? Are not the Government rich in promises but poor in performance? The funding of sixth-form colleges will fall in real terms in each of the next three years because of the productivity and efficiency improvements expected of them.

Mr. Blunkett

We are reducing by a third the productivity improvements—or cuts, as they were previously known—demanded of the colleges by the budgets set by the previous Government. The £83 million of additional resources, not including the new deal provision, will go a long way to ensure that colleges can develop their potential. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman received, and has read, "Investing in Young People", because it contains an opportunity, in its 10-point plan, to set aside the neglect of 16 and 17-year-olds and to put in the resources and support necessary, including an additional £10 million to expand the modern apprenticeship scheme next year.

Mrs. Lait

Is the Secretary of State aware that, because of the excellence of the education provided by Bromley council, many parents from surrounding Labour-run boroughs send their children to schools in Bromley? Would he care to give us a time scale suggesting how soon he expects the improvements that he promises in education to take place in the surrounding Labour boroughs, so that the parents of children in Bromley can choose the school that they wish their children to attend?

Mr. Blunkett

In the spirit of Christmas magnanimity, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her return to the House. I am delighted that she has raised that question, because it offers us support in sorting out the mess that results when children are excluded from their local schools because of the selective process implemented in Bromley, with school knocking out school. Getting admissions policy right, together with lifting standards in all schools for all children, will be a key part in the process of making sense of the nonsense that we inherited.