The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke): The Government-funded education mentoring programme in Warwick is helping young people to realise their potential and strengthening voluntary groups and neighbourhoods. The project will receive £55,999 per annum for the years 200405 and 200506. Last year, 200 students volunteered in over 40 schools. It is an important scheme that shows that we can develop this in many ways. I am grateful for the support that my hon. Friend has given it.
Mr. Cunningham : I cannot stress enough the importance of that scheme, particularly in inner cities and deprived areas. Does my right hon. Friend have plans to expand the scheme up and down the country?
Mr. Clarke: We do. There is a range of such schemes, including an interesting one pioneered by Simon Singh, the author, to get maths students to spend part of their course acting as teaching assistants in maths classes in local schools. We are drawing up detailed proposals for a major expansion of precisely that type of work because we have seen the benefits to which my hon. Friend referred.
The Minister for Children (Margaret Hodge):
The evaluation of the first extended schools pathfinder projects, which includes an evaluation of the use of school sports facilities, was published earlier this year
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and is available in the House of Commons Library. It shows that many schools make their sports facilities available to the community. We are also evaluating the next phase of our programme to develop extended schools across the country and the use of school sports facilities will be part of that evaluation.
James Purnell : I welcome the extended schools project, but is it enough? There are two things we all know from our constituencies. First, young people are crying out for more facilities and, secondly, we are rebuilding all the playing fields and sports facilities that were sold off by the previous Government. Can we ensure that those facilities are used in the evenings and weekends? In the light of the report on obesity by the Select Committee on Health, do not we need to require all schools to provide those facilities in the evenings and weekends, in co-operation with sports organisations, local councils and the youth service?
Margaret Hodge: It is extremely important that we develop school sports facilities not just for young people, so that they have somewhere to go and something to do, but for wider use by the community. I agree with my hon. Friend that our measures to preserve school playing fields for their proper use have helped to encourage that, but I am less sure that we should make it compulsory for schools to extend that use. I believe that our extended sports programme will capture the imagination of head teachers and governing bodies and that they will choose of their own volition to extend their facilities to the wider community.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP): School sports facilities represent a huge resource and investment and, if we are honest, they have never been fully utilised by the community. Will the Minister encourage school principals and governors, perhaps for the first time, to promote the use of those facilities and make it more widely known that they are available, because in the past school principals and governors reacted only to requests to use such facilities?
Margaret Hodge: I agree. I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports our programme of over £1 billion of investment, with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to improve and extend school sports facilities. It is important that they should be available not just to the young people who attend the school but to the wider community, which will benefit from that. Parents and grandparents will benefit from participating in the activities of the school that their children and grandchildren attend.
Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the significant investment in sporting facilities in many schools in Rochdale. However, one problem should be looked at: the issue of revenue and ensuring that capital is used effectively. Sometimes, the community that is most local to the new facilities is excluded because of the pricing policy. Can some work be done to look at revenue to ensure that capital is used to best effect in many of the communities that are most in need?
As part of our programme of investment for the years to 2008, we are examining how
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to bring together all the sources of funding to make better use of facilities in schools as part of the extended schools programme. Part of that will involve looking at Government, local government, the role of the voluntary sector and individual contributions to see how those resources can be brought to bear to enhance and sustain those important facilities, which contribute so much to the well-being of the community.
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Does the Minister accept that a major threat to the use of school sports facilities by the wider community is the problem in finding volunteers to teach the sports? Has she read the reports in the Daily Mail this week that highlight the consequences of the compensation culture, which is forcing the cancellation of sports lessons because people are no longer prepared to volunteer as instructors because of the huge growth in the threat of litigation? Does she understand that all the fine words about encouraging sports in schools to promote good health and tackle obesity are worthless if she allows the development of a culture that drives away the dedicated people who give freely of their time to teach those sports?
Margaret Hodge: I agree that volunteers have an important contribution to make not only in the use of sports facilities in schools but in the wider enhancement of potential and opportunity for the children in those schools. However, we as a Government have been extremely successful in encouraging the involvement of volunteers right the way through the lives of children and young people, not least in the millennium volunteers programme, which we launched and which now involves hundreds of thousands of young people in the extension of volunteering. We also have a volunteer programme for sports facilities that links schools to local sports clubs across the whole range of sports. Those clubs are bringing their expertise back into school life through particular sports facilities. We want to carry on encouraging that. This is not a life of dependency, but a life of opportunity.
Claire Ward : My hon. Friend will be aware that, in Hertfordshire during the past year, we have had several challenges on selection policy and the adjudicator's decisions have also been challenged, causing considerable delay and stress to parents, schools and pupils. Will my hon. Friend consider how he could assist the adjudicator to come to more robust decisions? To create some stability, will he consider the possibility that the adjudicator's decisions must hold for a certain amount of time, perhaps two or three years, before they can be challenged again?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. In 32 cases, the adjudicators have reduced the
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amount of selection being carried out by schools. Any school that is thinking of reversing the adjudicator's decisionI think that my hon. Friend is referring to such a case in Hertfordshireshould think carefully about potential future challenges, the implications of previous adjudicator decisions and the uncertainty that such a reversal might cause to parents and pupils.
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