HC Deb 22 October 1998 vol 317 cc1386-7
7. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

What assessment he has made of the value of the 1998 literacy summer schools; and if he will make a statement.[55096]

12. Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

If he will make a statement on the initial results of the literacy summer schools. [55102]

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

This year's summer schools are being evaluated by the National Foundation for Educational Research. The report will be received in November and I will place copies in the Library. A sample evaluation of 200 of this year's summer schools has shown substantial results. The summer schools were over-subscribed and many children could not get places. Half those evaluated showed an improvement in their reading of six months or more and that is a tremendous achievement for those summer schools and a tremendous fillip for the education of those children.

Helen Jones

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. As he knows, I had three summer schools in my constituency and I was impressed by the work that was done in them. Does he agree that they would not have been so successful but for the dedication and enthusiasm of the staff, both teaching and non-teaching? Will he take this opportunity to congratulate them on the time and effort that they put in, which has raised reading standards substantially for many children?

Mr. Blunkett

I am delighted to commend the teaching and non-teaching staff and the parents who committed time to the summer schools. I can confirm that following the success of 557 literacy schools and 51 numeracy schools this year, we intend to double the number of summer schools next year. At least 1,200 will provide a link between primary and secondary schooling and an opportunity to show to anyone who doubts it the commitment of staff, parents and the community to raising standards in education.

Mr. Rammell

May I tell the Secretary of State about my experience of visiting the summer literacy schools in my constituency? The commitment and enthusiasm of the young people were heart warming. May I tell him too about my discussions with teachers about the Government's overall approach—

Madam Speaker

Order. This is Question Time.

Mr. Rammell

I am getting to it, Madam Speaker. We are setting targets and using the literacy hour and summer schools to improve standards. Is not that the fundamental difference between what we are doing and the attitude of the previous Government, who, far too often, simply accepted educational under-performance as a fact of life?

Mr. Blunkett

I agree entirely. It is a credit to the schools of Harlow that five of the eight summer schools in Essex were held in that town. I commend to the House what my hon. Friend has said. It is important to keep reiterating that there were no summer schools when we took office. The Government are making a difference by action rather than words and by investing where the Conservative Government merely wrung their hands. Take the example of the Ridings school, and the way in which it has been led by Anna White. I saw that school's improvement, and I was able to announce to parents and teachers that there would be a summer school when I was the first Minister ever to visit the school. The Ridings proves that if a commitment is made and resources are available, we can succeed.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

We are talking about the Government's targets for improving literacy skills. Is not the reality that the Government have been blown off course in meeting their targets for literacy and numeracy? The Secretary of State talks of action, not words, but this summer's results failed to meet up to the Government's words. Figures for key stage 2 results published earlier this month show that the Government have been blown off course on literacy because progress is not good enough to hit their targets. Furthermore, numeracy results show a fall rather than an improvement. The Government simply are not going to hit their targets. The Secretary of State is reported as saying that if the Government did not hit their targets, he would resign. Will he confirm that?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall give myself a chance to do the job before I consider resigning. It may have escaped the hon. Lady's notice that the policies carried through in the first year of the Labour Government reflected the total failure of the previous Government to tackle literacy and numeracy. They failed even to put in place a basic curriculum for teacher training in literacy and numeracy. They failed to put in place a literacy and numeracy strategy. We put a framework in place, which started in September. When our numeracy strategy is in place next year, we shall transform the abysmal results that are the miserable legacy that we inherited from the Conservatives into a triumph. Instead of six out of 10 children being able to read and write, eight out of 10—and eventually 10 out of 10—will be able to do so when they leave primary school.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Literacy summer schools must be seen in conjunction with the literacy hour in primary schools. Primaries in my constituency are very positive about that, and the kids enjoy it. The teachers are keen to feed back ideas about the literacy hour to strengthen the project in the light of their experiences. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that a clear and manageable mechanism exists to allow schools to feed their experience to his Department?

Mr. Blunkett

Yes, we are keen to do that. That is why the immediate survey of 200 has taken place and why the evaluation of the national foundation is taking place. We must learn what works best and, obviously, set aside those things that are not working. I should like to take this opportunity to say that when I visited one of the earlier numeracy schools in August, I found imaginative work, inspiring children to want to learn. I should like to see that transferred into the main curriculum programmes, so that children rejoice in learning, not just in the summer but throughout the whole of their school life.

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