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Literacy Schools ...
Literacy Schools

7. Helen Jones (Warrington, North): What assessment he has made of the value of the 1998 literacy summer schools; and if he will make a statement. [55096]

12. Bill Rammell (Harlow): If he will make a statement on the initial results of the literacy summer schools. [55102]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (David Blunkett): This year's summer schools are being evaluated by the National Foundation for Educational Research. The report will be received in November and I will place copies in the Library. A sample evaluation of 200 of this year's summer schools has shown substantial results. The summer schools were over-subscribed and many children could not get places. Half those evaluated showed an improvement in their reading of six months or more and that is a tremendous achievement for those summer schools and a tremendous fillip for the education of those children.

Helen Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. As he knows, I had three summer schools in my constituency and I was impressed by the work that was done in them. Does he agree that they would not have been so successful but for the dedication and enthusiasm of the staff, both teaching and non-teaching? Will he take this opportunity to congratulate them on the time and effort that they put in, which has raised reading standards substantially for many children?

Mr Blunkett: I am delighted to commend the teaching and non-teaching staff and the parents who committed time to the summer schools. I can confirm that following the success of 557 literacy schools and 51 numeracy schools this year, we intend to double the number of summer schools next year. At least 1,200 will provide a link between primary and secondary schooling and an opportunity to show to anyone who doubts it the commitment of staff, parents and the community to raising standards in education.

Mr Rammell: May I tell the Secretary of State about my experience of visiting the summer literacy schools in my constituency? The commitment and enthusiasm of the young people was heart warming. May I tell him too about my discussions with teachers about the Government's overall approach--

Madam Speaker: Order. This is Question Time.

Mr Rammell: I am getting to it, Madam Speaker. We are setting targets and using the literacy hour and summer schools to improve standards. Is not that the fundamental difference between what we are doing and the attitude of the previous Government, who, far too often, simply accepted educational under-performance as a fact of life?

Mr Blunkett: I agree entirely. It is a credit to the schools of Harlow that five of the eight summer schools in Essex were held in that town. I commend to the House what my hon. Friend has said. It is important to keep reiterating that there were no summer schools when we took office. The Government are making a difference by action rather than words and by investing where the Conservative Government merely wrung their hands. Take the example of the Ridings school, and the way in which it has been led by Anna White. I saw that school's improvement, and I was able to announce to parents and teachers that there would be a summer school when I was the first Minister ever to visit the school. The Ridings proves that if a commitment is made and resources are available, we can succeed.

Theresa May (Maidenhead): We are talking about the Government's targets for improving literacy skills. Is not the reality that the Government have been blown off course in meeting their targets for literacy and numeracy? The Secretary of State talks of action, not words, but this summer's results failed to meet up to the Government's words. Figures for key stage 2 results published earlier this month show that the Government have been blown off course on literacy because progress is not good enough to hit their targets. Furthermore, numeracy results show a fall rather than an improvement. The Government simply are not going to hit their targets. The Secretary of State is reported as saying that if the Government did not hit their targets, he would resign. Will he confirm that?

Mr Blunkett: I shall give myself a chance to do the job before I consider resigning. It may have escaped the hon. Lady's notice that the policies carried through in the first year of the Labour Government reflected the total failure of the previous Government to tackle literacy and numeracy. They failed even to put in place a basic curriculum for teacher training in literacy and numeracy. They failed to put in place a literacy and numeracy strategy. We put a framework in place, which started in September. When our numeracy strategy is in place next year, we shall transform the abysmal results that are the miserable legacy that we inherited from the Conservatives into a triumph. Instead of six out of 10 children being able to read and write, eight out of 10--and eventually 10 out of 10--will be able to do so when they leave primary school.

Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Literacy summer schools must be seen in conjunction with the literacy hour in primary schools. Primaries in my constituency are very positive about that, and the kids enjoy it. The teachers are keen to feed back ideas about the literacy hour to strengthen the project in the light of their experiences. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that a clear and manageable mechanism exists to allow schools to feed their experience to his Department?

Mr Blunkett: Yes, we are keen to do that. That is why the immediate survey of 200 has taken place and why the evaluation of the national foundation is taking place. We must learn what works best and, obviously, set aside those things that are not working. I should like to take this opportunity to say that when I visited one of the earlier numeracy schools in August, I found imaginative work, inspiring children to want to learn. I should like to see that transferred into the main curriculum programmes, so that children rejoice in learning, not just in the summer but throughout the whole of their school life


9. Chris Pond (Gravesham): What evidence he has evaluated on links between truancy and unregulated term-time employment by children of school age. [55098]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Andrew Smith): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has lead responsibility on employment of school children. A review of child employment law is currently being undertaken by officials from his Department, the Department for Education and Employment, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Cabinet Office and the Health and Safety Executive. Children may not, of course, be employed to work during school hours.

Mr Pond: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that in Gravesham secondary school heads have written to local supermarkets asking why students preparing for GCSEs and A-levels have been required to work 20 hours a week, and no less, or have no job at all, and that other students work overnight in residential care homes? Given that 4 per cent. of children of school age admit to truanting on some occasions in order to undertake paid employment, does my right hon. Friend agree that dealing with truancy and excessive hours of employment for children of school age should be at the heart of our crusade to improve standards in education?

Mr Smith: The circumstances that my hon. Friend reports concern me. I will draw them immediately to the attention of local education authorities, so that education welfare officers can look into them. I shall also draw them to the attention of the review to which I referred earlier. The causes of truancy and the things that people do when they are truanting cover much more than employment. There is limited evidence that employment is a major factor in truancy, but where young people are working excessive hours or in dangerous or unsuitable conditions, that has to be stopped. We will ensure that action is taken.

John Bercow (Buckingham): While I acknowledge that the employment of school children must be strictly regulated by law, I hope that the Minister agrees that such regulation should not prevent them undertaking safe work that boosts their finances and those of their families. When the Government decided to prohibit the use of children on milk rounds at the request of the National Child Employment Network, did civil servants or the network bother to ask any children or their parents what benefit they gained and how they might suffer in the absence of those rounds?

Mr Smith: The important thing here is that some common sense is brought to bear. We recognise the benefits that young people derive from a proper amount of suitable work experience. There is not the evidence to show that sensible and appropriate work damages their educational accomplishment. I will certainly ensure that the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises is considered. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the Government are doing far more than our predecessors did to ensure that suitable preparation for work and sensible work experience forms part of the school experience for young people who can benefit from the opportunity to work.

Social Exclusion Unit

11. 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.

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