HC Deb 26 October 2000 vol 355 cc368-70
3. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

What plans he has to help schools to improve standards of behaviour. [132587]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

The Government have improved both in-school and off-site provision to help schools to tackle disruption. As part of a £174 million a year programme, we intend to create 1,000 on-site learning support units so that heads and teachers can remove pupils quickly when they are disrupting classes, but we have also expanded provision for excluded pupils: there are now 1,000 more places and 250 more teachers in out-of-school pupil referral units than in 1997. We intend that all excluded pupils will have full-time education by 2002. With more in-school welfare staff, we hope also to help schools to prevent problems before they happen.

Mr. Coaker

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. It is good news that provision—such as learning support units and pupil referral units—is being made for pupils who cause problems in school. However, what plans does my hon. Friend have to consult directly with the young people who are excluded from school to find out about their experience and perception of the system? Does she agree that finding out what they believe to be among the causes of their alienation could help inform the provision that is made for them? They, too, are entitled to educational support, just as are those pupils who remain in school.

Jacqui Smith

Given my hon. Friend's experience of working in schools, it is no surprise that he should ask such an important and sensible question. Departmental officials regularly meet young people who have been excluded from school. Such meetings formed part of a recent review of the social exclusion pupil support fund, and in the future they will form part of a review of the standards in pupil referral units.

In addition, it is important to note that we are working with partners in the voluntary sector to develop innovative programmes for excluded and disaffected young people. For example, we have made money available to Ultralab at Anglia university to bring together excluded young people using information and communication technology for both teaching and mentoring. We have also made available further funding for Rathbone to help the further development of what has been a very successful key stage 4 programme for young people at risk of disaffection. For the first time, that programme will be extended to children in the key stage 3 age group. Moreover, the historically large amount of money that the Government are putting into such projects means that, if successful, they have the potential to be expanded.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker? You will get 100 per cent. support from me and my colleagues.

Liberal Democrat Members appreciate the work being done to tackle the problem of disruptive behaviour in schools, to which there is no easy solution. However, does the Minister agree that two groups of young people need to be targeted? Children with special needs are seven times more likely to be excluded from school than other pupils, and Afro-Caribbean youngsters are four times more likely than others to be excluded because of poor behaviour. What are the Government doing for them? The chief inspector of schools refuses to turn the Ofsted spotlight on to the reasons for the exclusion of those young people and their poor behaviour. The Government cannot allow that to continue.

Jacqui Smith

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight those groups. We hope to have an impact on the unacceptable figure that he quoted with regard to children with special educational needs through the expanded funding that we have made available, improved teacher training and a greater concentration on early identification of those children's special needs.

We were encouraged by the most recent figures on exclusions among young people from ethnic minorities, which showed that there had been a larger fall in exclusions among such children than in other groups. However, I agree that we must continue the efforts that we have already made—for example, with regard to identifying barriers to achievement for those young people. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will do so.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley)

My hon. Friend will accept that the wide range of disturbed and disturbing behaviour among pupils of all ages would benefit from parental involvement in schools. In addition to the home-school contracts that already exist, what action would she encourage schools to take to improve their contact with parents and so deal with the behaviour that I have described?

Jacqui Smith

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We take very seriously the issue of parents' involvement in their children's education. My hon. Friend will know that earlier this term, the Department made available to schools and parents a guide containing information about the national curriculum. The aim was not to preach at parents but to give them practical tips on how to engage with their children's schools and learning. We want to ensure that standards are raised and, as my hon. Friend noted, to pre-empt those issues which make teaching very difficult and which can lead to disaffection.

My hon. Friend is right: parents need to be involved. She referred to home-school agreements, but we have implemented a range of other, practical measures to involve parents in their children's schooling.