HC Deb 23 March 2000 vol 346 cc1108-10
13. Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

What support his Department has given to the national numeracy strategy; and if he will make a statement. [114610]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Michael Wills)

We are providing annual funding of £55 million to support the numeracy strategy. In January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced an extra £9 million in 2000–01 to enable more teachers to attend intensive training courses. Ofsted confirmed in a report published today that the strategy is already having a positive impact on schools.

Mr. McCabe

Is not the support of parents crucial to the success of the measure? That is also true for many of the Government's initiatives. I know from personal experience that it can be difficult for parents—especially working parents—always to play as full a role as they would like in supporting such measures. What steps are the Department taking to ensure that parents and the wider community are able to support the national numeracy strategy?

Mr. Wills

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we realise the importance both of parents and of the wider community in helping children to participate in the numeracy strategy and to achieve success through it. As my hon. Friend is aware, Maths Year 2000 was launched earlier this year; it has a key role for teachers and parents. I am delighted that there has been a tremendous response to the recent television campaign. Since 19 January, there have been about 500,000 requests through the freephone order line for the free pamphlet of tips for parents to help their children with maths.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Given that it is excellent teaching and leadership that will have the greatest impact on numeracy, why has the Secretary of State appointed a bureaucrat from his own Department rather than an excellent classroom teacher or head teacher to head the new institute responsible for promoting excellence among head teachers?

Mr. Wills

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken; we have not appointed a bureaucrat from our Department. I shall be happy to send him full details of everything that we are doing. I remind him of one salient fact about what we have already achieved in the numeracy strategy. We should all be grateful for the enormous effort that teachers have put into the strategy and note that, in one year, the number of children achieving level 4 and above at key stage 2 has improved by 10 percentage points.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

We support much of the initiative. However, does the Minister accept that, despite the sums of money allocated centrally from the Government, what schools need is a consistent planning system so that they can fund year on year? In view of the Secretary of State's comments on the "Today" programme this morning, when he indicated that we shall have a nationally funded education system—if not within the lifetime of this Parliament, certainly within the lifetime of the next—will the Minister tell us whether he agrees with that way forward and that local education authorities are now redundant?

Mr. Wills

Again, I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. We should be happy to send him a transcript of the "Today" programme to point out exactly what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until the publication of the Green Paper for the details.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Bringing us back to numeracy, is my hon. Friend aware that one of the problems in delivering the numeracy strategy is the number of primary teachers who are not themselves particularly numerate? Although we are taking action in teacher education to ensure that there is testing of new teachers, what action is he taking to ensure that primary teachers in the classroom become more confident with numbers than they are at present? That is one of the reasons why we are not doing as well as we should in mathematics internationally.

Mr. Wills

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that every primary school teacher is being trained in numeracy strategy, and will continue to be so trained.