HC Deb 29 April 1999 vol 330 cc470-1
13. Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

If he will make a statement on his proposals for the use of and access to learning mentors. [81528]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

From September 1999, each secondary school pupil in six inner-city areas will have access to learning mentors. Learning mentors will devote the majority of their time to the children who need extra support to realise their full potential. We shall agree the detailed arrangements for deploying mentors with the relevant local education authorities, in partnership with their schools.

Valerie Davey

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that a voluntary mentoring scheme for those leaving care is proving to be of great value in the Bristol area. Given the importance of that scheme, will all the schools in the six areas be encouraged to take up mentoring schemes?

Ms Morris

I pay tribute to the voluntary mentoring scheme to which my hon. Friend refers. From travelling throughout the country, it is clear to me what a huge impact the voluntary schemes are having. I should like to take this opportunity to emphasise that the initiative we have launched to employ mentors to support some of the most disadvantaged children and so ensure that they get a decent education will do nothing to detract from the contribution that the voluntary sector makes to mentoring. In fact, one of the duties given to mentors on their appointment will be to make sure that they co-ordinate with voluntary mentoring and work with schools to raise standards even further.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I am sure that the Minister knows that, as part of their new deal for employment, the Government have appointed employment advisers who, to a great extent carry out mentoring in respect of education. Is she upset—as all of us should be—that, since the new deal was introduced, in every quarter, the number of unemployed people in the 18 to 24 age group has gone up? Is it not time that the Government carefully examined mentoring in respect of getting people into educational courses? Perhaps people are being ill advised and are not getting jobs at the end of the process.

Ms Morris

I only wish that the hon. Gentleman had benefited from the numeracy hour; if he had, he might have realised that youth unemployment has gone down by a third since the introduction of the new deal. The work we are doing to provide mentors, not only for those who, having left school, are trying to enter employment and training, but for those who are still at school, will ensure that children and adults who are at a point in their life when they have to make key decisions are at last given the high-quality advice and support that they need to ensure that they have access to the life opportunities that have so far been denied to far too many people.

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