HL Deb 22 March 1999 vol 598 cc990-1004

5 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The Statement is as follows:

"Madam Speaker, with permission I wish to make a Statement on excellence in cities

"On 11th March I announced to the House that with the extra investment in public services from the Budget we would provide much wider access to information technology—with a clear focus on inner cities. In our White Paper, Excellence in Schools, we promised to modernise the comprehensive principle. Today I can announce a major new framework for our inner city schools—taking these principles forward in the six largest cities in England.

"It means shifting the focus decisively from the institution to the individual, irrespective of geography or birth, so that every gifted pupil will be stretched and special needs met. It means a substantial expansion of specialist and beacon schools promoting diversity and excellence. It means that every youngster who would benefit will have access to a learning mentor, with extra help available for those who need it most. This is a strategy which will give every pupil an entitlement to new and more challenging opportunities.

"There are particular problems in inner cities that have created a long-standing culture of low expectation. Today's action plan—which will be backed by £350 million over the next three years— will build on measures already taken to raise achievement.

"Sure Start and expanded nursery education will give every child the best possible start in life. The daily literacy hour is teaching children to read, write and spell effectively for the first time in 30 years. From September, our numeracy strategy will restore mental arithmetic to maths teaching. This is underpinned by a rapid reduction in infant class sizes.

"There are many teachers and pupils already performing very well in difficult circumstances. We must build on and spread their success. Just as the city multiplies the barriers, we have to multiply the opportunities. Initially, our action plan will be taken forward in six areas—inner and north-east London, Manchester/Salford, Liverpool/Knowsley, Birmingham, Leeds/Bradford and Sheffield/Rotherham. As the programme develops, we will link into other initiatives for regeneration and spread success.

"We will strengthen leadership in our inner city schools and provide gifted pupils with new opportunities to succeed. This means setting into appropriate groups in their own school, as well as extra classes linked to specialist schools. If a child with a talent for languages wishes to study German or Italian, but his own school offers only French, he should be able to do so.

"All of us would want to ensure that those who have the ability can go to university. We will establish new university summer schools for 16 and 17 year-olds in the inner city. This will build on links already developed by individual schools and colleges with some universities.

"Madam Speaker, many youngsters in our inner cities lose out because they drop out. All secondary school pupils in these areas who need one will have access to a learning mentor, to assist in overcoming barriers—someone who can cut through red tape to offer support. This will benefit those who have been traditionally failed by the system, especially children from minority ethnic and disadvantaged backgrounds.

"This year, we will make a start with £17 million to employ over 800 mentors in our schools. Mentors will guide pupils towards extra help and extra tuition where they are falling behind. Nor can we allow a disruptive pupil to wreck the chances of others. Excluded youngsters miss out on education and often turn to crime. Seventy-five per cent. of those on remand have a reading age of 10 or below. We are already acting to tackle these problems.

"Today, I propose that in these areas every secondary school should have access to a learning unit for disruptive youngsters. They will receive a full time-table and will return to class only when they can do so without disruption.

"Madam Speaker, turnover and the use of supply teachers are major challenges to the continuity of education in inner cities. We will introduce new measures to attract and retain good teachers, through enhanced retention bonuses and targeted training and development.

"Alongside today's measures, we are strengthening diversity and excellence across the education system. Today, I can announce the expansion of our existing target for specialist schools from 500 to at least 800 by 2002. This will mean that nearly one in four secondary schools in England will offer a specialism, linked to neighbouring schools and colleges.

"Our new network of learning centres will include specialist schools with a strong ICT focus and adult computer learning. The first 80 centres will be placed in our inner city areas at a cost of £100 million. I can also announce a five-fold increase in our beacon school programme from the current planned number of 200 by September to 1, 000 by 2002.

"There has been great enthusiasm for education action zones—and we will invest up to £24 million to extend the programme to support an additional 40 smaller zones. We will also accelerate Ofsted inspections of inner city local education authorities.

"I am pleased to say that, to spearhead this drive, the Prime Minister has today appointed my honourable friend, the School Standards Minister, to hold special responsibility for inner city education. She will lead a strategy group which will include successful heads.

"For too long the specific educational characteristics of inner cities have been ignored. Today, I believe we have set in train action which will lead to a step change in aspiration and expectation. Our ambition is real diversity and excellence—from world-class primary education to a comprehensive system which works for all our children whatever their background.

"Madam Speaker, I commend this Statement to the House."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. The Government having attacked selection on the ground of ability for months if not years, this Statement is seriously astonishing. It would be helpful to have some questions answered on finance, but I shall return to those in a moment.

No one, but no one on this or, I suspect, any side of the House would argue with the aim that education should meet the needs of all children from the very brightest through to those with the most special needs. That is common ground between us. Indeed, our specialist schools were designed by the previous government to expand the strengths of many of our schools; and I am delighted to see that the expansion will continue.

The Statement reveals the hopeless confusion at the heart of the Government's education policies. They have spent two years attacking any attempts by schools to specialise with more able pupils. Schools are losing their power over their admissions policy. They will no longer be able to introduce a policy of selecting any students on the basis of ability. Furthermore, all our grammar schools are under threat; and it is my prediction that with the rigged balloting system few will survive the next decade.

Now the Government have come up with this scheme for selecting more able pupils in inner city comprehensives. Why is that form of selection by ability being imposed while all existing forms of selection have been banned? The Government have taken all the rungs out of the ladders and now have a dog's breakfast of a system in which they are trying to put one or two of them back.

This hare-brained scheme will be virtually impossible to operate in practice. Are the Government listening to the teachers and the heads of department and the people who have already been reading, in some detail, over the weekend about those proposals? I listened to Radio 4 this morning when the matter was gone into in great detail. That is another example of how the Government prefer to go public with their Statements before respecting the sovereignty of Parliament.

Are we suggesting that more able pupils should be taken by bus to other schools for special lessons? What was wrong with able children attending schools which could provide for their needs? Will the noble Baroness confirm that the Government ban specialist schools from selecting by ability? Under the Government's present plans, schools can specialise in music but they cannot specialise in mathematics because that smacks of selecting by ability. Are the Government now saying that pupils can be taken to another school because of their ability at maths but cannot be enrolled at that school? Is that not tying the policy up in knots?

The Secretary of State has made clear on so many occasions his hostility to selection on the basis of ability. Those special classes are to take place in pupils' own schools. Is that with or without the very teachers who are failing to meet the needs of the children in those schools or are the teachers in those schools to be set aside? Very often, inner city children have enormous problems at home. The end of the school day is not a time when they are at their brightest. But they must sit down with their new teachers who will start to teach them literacy, numeracy and other subjects. Those children, tired and exhausted, have been holed up in schools during the week and they will then be taught after school and on Saturday mornings.

Why can those special lessons not take place at normal times during the school day? Do we not owe it to our children to meet their needs during the course of a normal school day? Are we back to setting in schools? I thought the Government were against that. On this side of the House, we certainly support the notion of setting.

This hardly constitutes the transformation of inner city education. The Secretary of State famously remarked— and it is well recorded—that: I am having no truck with middle-class, left-wing parents who preach one thing and send their children to another school outside the area". Of whom was he thinking? Is it all right now, provided that the children travel by bus to a specialist school, in an evening, from inner city schools where the children are enrolled already?

Mentoring can be a useful way of helping pupils. When I was at the Home Office, we did a great deal to encourage mentoring, especially of children in inner city schools. We worked closely with the Prince's Trust. So many of our young civil servants encouraged people in business and commerce to lend their most able people to work alongside young people, particularly those who were disruptive in school, to see whether they could be brought back on track. So we do recognise that work.

But the Secretary of State makes great play of that and of the money that is to go to inner city schools. Will the noble Baroness confirm that that is part of the education settlement which has been announced already? How is the money to reach the schools? Is the Secretary of State aware of the frustration and anger among schools when they hear yet another glitzy announcement from the Government, but they know it is to be financed out of the money which should have gone to them as part of their core funding? Instead, it is held back for yet another central departmental initiative.

Over the weekend, I was talking to the head of a school which is having to shed 10 members of staff. It is a secondary school—it was a grant-maintained school— and is a specialist school. Is it to shed 10 staff and then to look forward to a glitzy, presentational mentor who will arrive at the end of the school day? Would it not be better for that school to keep those members of staff?

It is true that the way in which money is now being top-sliced in education means that the core funding going into school is being corrupted and distorted. The best way forward is to give schools the greatest possible power to shape their own characters and to call them to account. The Government say that they will allow schools to select by aptitude (for example, music) but not ability (for example, maths). That is ludicrous.

Having attacked selection on the ground of ability for so long, how is it that the Government can now present us with the kind of weasel words which we see in this document? What provision will there be for a highly academic, able young person in a school which does not meet that child's needs? What will happen? Will that child not be selected on the basis of ability as a child with special needs?

In repeating the Statement, the noble Baroness said: Our ambition is real diversity". That is perhaps so, as long as that does not involve selecting a child on the basis of ability. Or does it? How do we take that from the Statement?

I should like the noble Baroness to clarify the financial aspect. I have asked for a breakdown of the £19 billion which was allocated to education over three years. I am finding it extremely difficult to get information from the department about that. Is that money additional to the £19 billion or is it part of it? To what extent has the £19 billion been eroded from core provision for schools into those specialist schemes? Will all the revenue costs of those measures continue to be funded beyond the planned period? Many schools across the land are receiving money from the Government for one scheme or another, but then are left to pick up the costs. Even in relation to the class-size pledge, they may have the classrooms and extra teachers this year, but there is nothing in their budget which will provide for the continuing revenue costs of refurbishing those classrooms and providing teachers and staff for the children.

The noble Baroness is, at the moment, making evaluative statements about action zones. That is another area about which I have been asking questions. But we are not receiving any information about how they are performing. I can tell the noble Baroness that in places they are so bogged down with communicating, meetings and co-ordination that the very last people to benefit from those activities are the children in the schools. This Statement is breathtaking in its arrogance and in its double standards.

Lord Tope

My Lords, in your Lordships' House, I am used to following the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I usually try to be more positive in my response. I shall do so again today. However, I share some of her concerns and I admit to a growing irritation over the past 48 hours and a growing feeling that this initiative received more and more publicity not only on the day of the announcement but even the day before the announcement. It seems to me that this Statement is now something of an afterthought rather than, as I believe it should be, the first action, followed if necessary by all the glitzy publicity.

I want to try to be positive and to give a welcome to the general thrust of the Statement. I say that for two reasons: first, because it recognises the special position of some inner city schools. It is turning towards praising and raising rather than the previous practice of naming and shaming. I certainly welcome any additional resources which may be coming to inner city schools, indeed to any schools.

Secondly, I welcome it because it recognises that gifted children also have special needs. My first question is whether the Government intend to review the provisions of the 1996 Act in that regard actually to recognise that special needs include those children with particular gifts, a point which we discussed in your Lordships' House when that Bill, as it then was, was going through this House. Do the Government intend to review that?

Not all inner city schools are disadvantaged and certainly by no means all disadvantaged and/or gifted pupils are in inner city schools. While I recognise that any initiative must start somewhere, I must ask the Minister when the Government expect to be able to extend that programme to the many schools in suburban and other metropolitan areas and in particular rural areas which face very real problems similar, albeit in very different settings, to those which we are addressing today in our inner city areas.

Much of the Statement and the booklet—I have had the opportunity to glance quickly at it—have a rather familiar ring. There is extensive reference to initiatives already announced by the Government. Some have been announced by the Government several times. Indeed, I sometimes liken the Government to a cow which has seven stomachs. This Government seem to have to regurgitate each initiative at least seven times and announce it each time before it is finally digested.

Perhaps I may repeat a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in a different way. How much of the money is being announced for the first time today and how much is money previously announced as specific initiatives or as part of the education settlement generally? To the extent that any of it relates to part of the previous education settlement, schools all over the country will have been expecting some share of that and will feel some disappointment—I put it no stronger—that even that small funding will not be coming their way. I return to my earlier question: when is this programme expected to be extended?

What will be the delivery mechanism of the funding? How will the funding reach schools, and, perhaps more importantly, the pupils at whom it is targeted? Will it be on the basis of need? Or will it be yet another bidding process which does little in recognition of need but responds much more to those who are good at putting in bids? I hope the Minister can tell us what the delivery mechanism will be and how it is to reach those for whom it is intended.

Finally, reference has been made to the 800 mentors. I believe this to be a welcome initiative, provided it is done properly and well. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us where the 800 mentors are to come from— I nearly said "800 Ministers"; God forbid!—and who they will be. What training will they receive? How will they be able to carry out their jobs? I believe that in another place the Secretary of State made reference to the fact that such mentors would also use volunteers. I believe my question is even more relevant. Who will these volunteers be? What training will they have had? What is the extent of their professionalism? What supervision and support will they receive? This is a very welcome initiative but only if done properly. If done improperly or badly, it could be disastrous.

As always with such initiatives, it begs more questions than it answers. However, I conclude by giving a general welcome at least to the recognition that gifted children also have special needs, wherever they live.

5.22 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for at least welcoming the increase in specialist schools. However, I am sorry that she was disparaging about so much of the package. It is designed to provide additional support for schools in our inner cities and to ensure that pupils in those schools are stretched and taught in such a way that all fulfil the potential of which they are capable. That includes the most able pupils and also those who are disaffected and not at present getting what they should from their experience in our secondary schools.

I emphasise that the Government's announcement today is not just about gifted and able pupils but also those at the other end of the spectrum, including those who are disruptive in our schools. We want to ensure that such pupils do not disrupt the education of others but that they are adequately taught in special units pursuing a full timetable and then brought back into the classroom as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, was a little more welcoming but somewhat unfair in suggesting that there is not very much that is new in the announcement made today. I should like to correct the noble Lord. I believe that when he has had the opportunity to read what we are setting out to do he will see that a great deal of what is contained in the document published today is, in fact, new.

I turn to the more specific questions. The noble Baroness made some scathing remarks about the intention of the Government to abandon selection in some areas but reintroduce it in others. I remind her that the Government are not reintroducing selection here but making it possible for pupils in all schools, wherever they are, to have the kind of programme that is appropriate to their needs. That will be done partly through setting but also through after-school activities, Saturday activities and ensuring that they have access to programmes provided by neighbouring specialist and beacon schools.

There is no suggestion in what has been announced today that large numbers of pupils will be "bussed". They will be able to benefit from the teachers in beacon schools visiting neighbouring schools and providing the best practice that such excellent teachers are able to provide, supporting the training of teachers in schools that have not been designated as beacon schools, and so on. Therefore, I believe that the noble Baroness is wrong to suggest that, somehow or other, as a result of focusing more on the needs of gifted pupils, we will be moving large numbers of pupils around.

The noble Baroness was very dismissive of the excellent after-school and Saturday activities already in place. These are the kind of programmes that have been paid for, quite often, by people who send their children to private schools. I cannot imagine why pupils in our state schools should not benefit from additional provision of that sort. It seems to me highly desirable to make such provision available. I think the noble Baroness was a little "over the top" in her suggestion that all pupils are so exhausted at the end of the school day that they cannot benefit by such programmes.

The noble Baroness asked about the funding of the initiative, as did the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Perhaps I may explain that the cost of the initiative will be about £350 million. It will be funded with approximately £150 million of new money provided for in the Budget and £200 million out of the existing settlement secured under the comprehensive spending review.

I believe that this is an enormously welcome announcement for teachers. It means that they will have access to resources they have not had in the past. The noble Baroness said that she was unable to obtain information about the breakdown of the £19 billion of additional money. Of course, the Government have not yet announced how all of that will be spent. They have not yet announced how the third year of the additional £19 billion will be spent. However, the Government have published countless documents of one kind or another concerning the first two years. I have tried to ensure that the noble Baroness is sent copies of all such documents which have been made public.

The noble Baroness also asked about education action zones. She said that no information was provided about their performance. Perhaps I may say that it is still early days. The Government are evaluating the education action zones but most were established only recently and are part of a larger programme. It is rather too soon to give any clear cut indication of how they are performing. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that they are hugely more successful than the noble Baroness suggested. I deeply regret her extremely hostile remarks about the great effort that has been put into the education action zones. I am surprised because I had thought that the noble Baroness welcomed them.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked about mentors and where they will come from. Those additional staff for inner-city schools will be recruited from a variety of different professions. Some will be additional trained teachers; some will be youth workers; and some could be from the educational welfare service. They will come from different backgrounds and will be expected to work with all children who require mentoring. That includes those who are in some difficulty in deciding to commit themselves to their work and their learning as well as those who are very able. In particular, we want to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We want to help able children from disadvantaged backgrounds who may need advice about access to post-school education, including university. I am glad that there was some welcome for the proposals to develop university summer schools. I regard that as a very important initiative. It will encourage young people from homes where there is no tradition of higher education to make the most of their talents and abilities.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in so far as the Statement relates to pupils in comprehensives in inner-city areas it confirms the totally disastrous nature of the decision taken by this Government to abolish the assisted places scheme, a decision taken purely on the basis of ideological bigotry? Will the Minister accept from me that the assisted places scheme, introduced in 1979 by, among others, my noble friend Lady Young and myself, had the main and specific aim of providing educational opportunities for bright children living in inner-city areas, working through the old grammar schools? Sadly, the Statement shows that inner-city comprehensives, through no fault of their own, have been unable to provide such opportunities. How many children does the noble Baroness estimate have had such opportunities taken from them by the decision that this Government took? Is it not time that the Secretary of State apologised to them and their parents for the opportunities that they lost?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that I am afraid I do not accept what he says. I know that the noble Lord is very attached to the scheme he introduced as Secretary of State for Education and Science some time ago. That scheme took a tiny number of bright pupils out of local state schools and put them into private schools. The scheme involved very, very small numbers. It did nothing for the 98 per cent. —or, rather, the 99 per cent. —of pupils left behind in the schools from which those pupils had been removed. This Government are determined to make it possible for all children in comprehensive schools in our inner cities to get the education they deserve. It is not a question of plucking out small numbers.

The noble Lord used the strong words "ideological bigotry" in relation to the abolition of the scheme. It may be appropriate to say that the introduction of that scheme was ideologically motivated. I would not want to accuse the noble Lord of "bigotry" because I think that such language is unnecessarily strong and even a little abusive.

This programme is about developing opportunities for children in their own neighbourhoods, in their own schools. It is about local schools being of really high quality. I am amazed that noble Lords opposite are not welcoming that.

Lord Sheppard of Liverpool

My Lords, first, does my noble friend agree that schools in areas such as I knew in east London in the 1950s and 1960s suffered considerably because the brightest children in the neighbourhood were siphoned off to selective schools? Will this scheme help the brightest children to play a part in the leadership of their own schools while they receive additional help?

Secondly, with reference to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, does my noble friend agree that with regard to priority areas, "priority" needs to mean priority and not trying to spread the butter too widely over everything, and that schools in priority areas have needs that are different not only in scale, but in kind?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the leadership that able, committed, motivated and bright pupils can provide in a local comprehensive school. We all know from countless pieces of research the role of peer group pressure and the role that pupils who really want to get on can play in encouraging others. The ethos of a school can be changed by those young people staying in their local areas and working with their teachers to ensure that their school is a success rather than a failure.

I accept what my noble friend says about the great needs of priority areas. We know that many inner-city schools have lacked the resources they need to do the excellent job they all have to do, as required by the Government. One of the really important outcomes of today's announcement is that they will have both the extra funding to help them to do that and, just as importantly, they will be linked with schools which have demonstrated by their success that they can achieve things that some other schools do not. This Statement is about trying to raise quality and standards in all our inner-city schools through such a mechanism.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister what I think are two rather practical questions. However, perhaps I may begin with a short statement about the enormity of the problem she faces. As I am sure the noble Baroness knows, there are about 160 very despised secondary modern schools left in England. They score better overall than 700 compirehensives, mostly in the inner cities—that is, better than one-quarter of our comprehensives—and in maths and science, they score better than 900 of our comprehensives—that is, better than one-third.

My first practical question is this. In view of the enormity of that failure in inner-city areas, does the Minister really think that: simply bringing in someone from another school, holding a summer school or possibly introducing a Saturday morning school will help? The noble Baroness has been in the academic world almost as long as I have, and she knows as well as I do that it is continuous good teaching from 9 a. m. until 4 p.m. that helps both those who are low achievers and those who are high achievers. Does she not agree that the Statement is merely rhetoric when faced with the reality of the figures I have quoted? That is my first question. I put it without ideology but as a former teacher.

I come to my second practical question. The noble Baroness knows, and has said, that the culture of the inner cities, particularly in families which have not received higher education, is often, sadly, against learning. Yet she believes she can persuade the children of those families, who are wholly different from those at private schools, to spend their summer holidays on university courses. I can assure the Minister that that has been tried, that some such children go, but that many do not. To expect such pupils to attend school on a Saturday morning when their friends are taking their girlfriends to the cinema is demanding a lot, even from a middle-class child. In other words, has the Minister faced the total reality of the failure of the inner-city comprehensives? I agree that that reality is terrible. I ask that because these measures will not achieve what she hopes.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has been a little over-dramatic in so roundly condemning all our inner city comprehensive schools.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I did not.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the noble Lord suggested that the culture of the inner cities was very much against learning. His conclusions were pretty defeatist and rather condemnatory of many of the schools. He suggested that there is not enough good teaching in them to lead to the kind of success that the Government hope to achieve from this new programme. I entirely accept that these schools need continuous good teaching. That is central to the issue and no one can get away from it. At the same time, many other measures can be taken which may perhaps raise the spirit of the schools and help to transform the teaching, including some of the matters that I have already mentioned, but about which the noble Lord is so deeply sceptical.

As regards summer schools, reality flies in the face of what he said. The Government have set up a number of such schools. Some of them started last year for pupils to develop literacy and numeracy skills. Large numbers of pupils attended from disadvantaged families in the inner cities. The noble Lord is being grotesquely unfair to many of the parents who want their children to do well. As yet some of them may not have understood the importance of learning, but many of them have. We should give them the tools to make it possible for their own children to succeed just as well as those children who attend private schools.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, it would appear that the Statement is not universally popular in all quarters. Therefore, perhaps I may give a particular welcome to that part of it which announces the establishment of summer schools for 16 and 17 year-olds to be taught foreign languages. That follows a recommendation of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Community in which we commented on the inability of many young university students to take courses in foreign universities because they felt that they did not have the linguistic capacity to cope with them. Therefore, I welcome this step which appears to be in the right direction.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for his comment about summer schools for 16 and 17 year-olds. The ability of such students to learn or improve their foreign languages is just one example of how children from the inner cities can be helped. Many children from more privileged backgrounds are sent abroad and gain the opportunity to improve their language skills by that means. Some pupils cannot afford that. However, it is very desirable, where possible, for inner city comprehensive schools to try to arrange exchanges, but I appreciate that it is sometimes difficult. The summer schools can be an important way of supporting learning of this kind.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for fleshing out what we already know from Radio 4 and other sources. It is very unfortunate that the media will have no interest whatever in the exchanges in this Chamber and probably those in another place. Therefore, our function is not to form public opinion, but to have some effect on government, which I hope the noble Baroness will allow us to do.

Learning units for disruptive pupils are very far from being a new idea. It was in existence 10 years ago when I wrote my report on discipline in schools. It was not a new idea then. I am glad to hear that these learning units will be available to every school, but it would be helpful to know whether they will be on or off-site and whether, as I believe is essential, their prime objective will be to get children re-injected into orbit, if I may use that phrase, and back into the classroom as quickly as possible as they so quickly lose the place which they would otherwise be able to maintain.

As regards mentors, the noble Baroness touches on a subject which is close to my heart as chairman of the DIVERT Trust, which provides mentors for children in difficulty in schools. I suspect that the philosophy of the noble Baroness or of her Government is different from ours. I would like to know a good deal more. The noble Baroness has often told us that her Government are engaged in joined-up government and joined-up thinking. One thing that clearly needs to be joined up is the part of a child's life which is lived at school and the part lived outside school. The mentors are described as "learning mentors". Does that mean that they are concerned only with the academic life of the children? If so, that will greatly inhibit their work. If that is the case, will they have formal links with the mentors from the voluntary sector who are looking after the other aspects of the lives of those children?

The noble Baroness is injecting a new creature entirely into the culture of every school in question. That will have considerable effects on the social and other structures within the schools. Can she tell us where these learning mentors will fit in? We read in the main report that they are based in the schools, but will they be in the staff-room? Will they be answerable to heads of department, the deputy head or the head of the school? What status will they have not only in the eyes of other teachers but, most importantly, in the eyes of the children themselves? They will be an invaluable source of feedback on the way in which a school is working. Will that be capitalised on and will the opinions be fed to the school and the local education authority and, if so, how?

Finally, the paper which is the precursor of the Statement says that each secondary school pupil in the areas will have access to learning mentors. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could tell us how many pupils there will be and what the ratio will be as between the pupils and the 800 mentors. It is beginning to look as though the Government are providing a very small number at a cost—I am sorry to hear—of £200 million to the other schools. As I understand it, £150 million is being provided as new money. If I misunderstood the noble Baroness I am sure that she will be glad to have the opportunity to put that right. It appears that £200 million will come from the general educational programme. I am very relieved to see the noble Baroness shake her head.

As a mentor at heart I cannot refrain from welcoming this approach, provided that it is properly thought through and that it is introduced in the schools in a way that is amicable to their culture.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked quite a number of questions and I am not sure that I shall be able to do justice to all of them in the time available. I very much value the excellent work that the DIVERT Trust does in this area. I accept that the idea of providing learning support units is not a new one. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for the work that he has done in the past in pressing for them. But what is new is that this Government are investing money into providing them so that they are available to pupils in all schools which need this kind of help.

Most of the provision will be on site, but not all. There may well be smaller schools where pupils in need of help will have to go to other schools. The prime objective is to get the pupils back into the classroom. That is something with which everyone in your Lordships' House will agree. When they are excluded and drop out altogether, they get into trouble with the police. They can finish up filling our gaols later on, which is something we should try to avoid at all costs.

We foresee the mentors working with the voluntary sector and supporting volunteers working in their own schools. That is a very important part of their role. We can increase the numbers involved in giving their time willingly, particularly those who have experience of disaffected young people. The noble Lord also asked to whom the learning mentors would be answerable. They will be answerable to the head teacher in the schools where they are based. I cannot give the noble Lord a precise answer as to how many pupils each learning mentor will have. I doubt whether anyone can give that answer at this stage. However, if I am wrong about that I shall write to the noble Lord.

As regards funding, the £200 million will not be taken away from other schools; it will come from the extra money that the Department for Education and Employment has secured from the Treasury. Some of it will be spent through the Standards Fund and some will come from the department's reserves.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I welcome the Statement? It is an injection of new money into inner city schools. Am I right in assuming that it is not only the bright children who are the target of the new funding, but also the average children? The proportion of young people who now go into universities has vastly increased, and that growth has surely come from the children of average ability. It is important therefore to motivate those children in the inner city areas who have been demotivated in the past.

I welcome too the fact that Leeds/Bradford is to be one of the areas to form part of the initiative. Is my noble friend aware of some of the initiatives that have already taken place in that part of the world? For instance, during literacy year volunteers were brought into schools to help with literacy and the University of Bradford held a Saturday morning class for the Asian community to try to encourage more of its members to consider entering the universities. Will the initiative build on that kind of activity in those localities?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, on the last point, I am grateful to my noble friend for referring to the kind of scheme that exists in the Leeds/Bradford area with Saturday schools for the Asian community. Those are exactly the kind of schemes on which this initiative will want to build. Indeed, we want local education authorities to work directly with such schemes.

I am glad that my noble friend drew attention to the fact that the extra money for these inner city schools will help average children, too. Quite a lot of the funding will go to the provision of world-class IT centres in our inner cities. We want all of our children to be computer literate; as we move into the 21st century, it will be vital that they are able to use IT. Many jobs will require them to be proficient in that area. That is one respect in which the funding will help average children.

My noble friend suggested also that these are children we need to motivate to go on to further or higher education. That is certainly the case. Many of them will want to go on to do some kind of full-time course, not necessarily in a university, but perhaps a vocational course in a further education college.