HC Deb 29 January 1998 vol 305 cc492-3
10. Dr. Stoate

What measures the Government are taking to ensure that children of school age attend school regularly. [24189]

Ms Estelle Morris

All pupils need to attend school regularly if standards are to be raised and if young people are to gain an adequate grounding for higher education, training or employment. We are supporting locally devised projects to a value of £22 million in 119 English local education authorities under the improving attendance and behaviour category of the standards fund for 1998–99. We are also consulting widely on detailed new guidance for schools and LEAs on attendance issues.

Dr. Stoate

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Does she agree that those who are away from school without good reason can become marginalised? How may the new social exclusion unit be able to help the problem?

Ms Morris

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those who leave school without qualifications are excluded from so much else in life. Some of the saddest figures relate to those who become offenders and appear in court while they are of school age. Six in every 10 of them have been persistent truants or excluded from school.

That is the cost of poor attendance and truancy, and that is why dealing with those problems is such a high priority for the Government—and why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced that dealing with them will be one of the first tasks of the social exclusion unit. It will address the problems as they have never been addressed before, in a multi-disciplinary way, drawing together the efforts and resources of a number of Departments. We look forward to receiving an early report from the unit, so that we can make progress.

Mr. Paterson

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the governors and teachers of Kinnerley primary school, which came top of the league in Shropshire this year? That included attendance figures. Will she ask how on earth the teachers and governors of Shropshire schools—[Interruption.] I should be grateful if the Minister would pay attention and listen to my question.

How on earth will teachers and governors deliver a similar quality of education in Shropshire next year with 450 fewer teachers? That shortage has been caused by cuts of £10 million, and the Government's swingeing shift of resources from shire counties to inner cities.

Ms Morris

The hon. Gentleman's closing comments are a strange reflection on a Government who have just put more extra money into education than his party's Government ever managed to do. I am happy to congratulate the school in his constituency, and all the schools elsewhere that take local action with well-devised projects to reduce truancy and ensure good attendance.