HC Deb 22 October 1998 vol 317 cc1392-4
11. Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South)

If he will make a statement on the latest report from the social exclusion unit and on what steps he has taken to tackle the problems faced by disaffected young people. [55101]

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

I welcome the social exclusion unit's report, "Bringing Britain Together: A Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal", which is linked to the earlier report on truancy and exclusion. We are setting a target for a reduction of one third in truancy and exclusion over the next three years. During that time we shall invest £493 million to tackle head on the tragedy of exclusion and truancy. We shall use a cross-departmental approach to overcome disadvantages in our most deprived neighbourhoods and we shall invest the resources that the Conservative party denied for so many years.

Ms Taylor

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to be successful in including young people, local partnerships and local authorities must be involved in all policies? Does he agree also that successfully helping young people will be the test of our policy of including the excluded? Are local authorities to be given further advice on funding sixth form education?

Mr. Blunkett

On the first two questions, it is absolutely clear that without a partnership approach that includes every agency and contributor, we cannot succeed. That is why the schools plus team, which was set up following the renewal report, and our advice on best practice in avoiding exclusion and truancy must combine to spread the excellence that already exists. In addition, the new start programme will target 14 to 19-year-olds.

It is clear that children who are excluded and who truant from school are excluded from life. They cannot get a job; they often find themselves in difficulty with the law, and they find themselves alienated from society. A comprehensive approach to post-16 education by further education and sixth form colleges, which provides work-based training and work in the community, is vital in ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I congratulate the new members of the Front-Bench team and welcome many of the Secretary of State's proposals for tackling the disaffected. Does he accept that disaffected young people are often those who achieve the least academically? Will he therefore explain to the House why, if targets are so important to him, there are no targets in literacy for the bottom 20 per cent. of pupils, which means that teachers tend to concentrate on the rest? Will not that lead to further disaffection? Is there not already a growing gap between the bottom 20 per cent. of pupils and the rest, which is a recipe for disaster?

Mr. Blunkett

In view of the congratulations coming from all sides to half of my team, I think that I should congratulate them myself.

We have a difficulty in that every time we set new targets, the Liberal Democrats say that we are overloading teachers and causing them aggravation. I shall be delighted to set targets in the not too distant future to avoid having children leaving school with no qualifications. Last year 45,000 young people left school without a single qualification to their name. Regrettably, the vast majority of children in care leave school without qualifications. We shall do something about that. However, a solution will be achieved not simply by setting a target but by putting in place the necessary support mechanisms to ensure that all children are well educated.

Recent GCSE results show an improvement in terms of those gaining an A to G qualification or the equivalent, and a decrease in the number of pupils who leave school with no qualifications. I think that we should take some pride in those results and spread best practice so that we can do even better next year.

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