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No. 10 Afternoon Press Briefing From 4 Dec 2007

Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Programme for international student assessment, Iraq hostages video, US report re Iran, party funding and Nimrod report.

Afternoon press briefing from 4 December 2007

Programme for International Student Assessment

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about Britain's current slide in the world league tables for both maths and English, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) confirmed that this question was referring to the Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2006 and replied that in general we continued to perform significantly above the international average for scientific literacy and around the average for reading and mathematical literacy.

The national curriculum tests and GCSE results told us that standards were continuing to rise slowly but steadily across the board. In relation to this particular report, as DCSF had said, many countries were grouped quite closely together in terms of their results. For example, in science, 6 other countries nominally ahead of us were what the report classed as 'not significantly different' from us in performance.

Similar things were happening in the reading table. What mattered was what was happening to overall standards and our national curriculum tests and GCSEs told us that standards were continuing to rise slowly but steadily across the board. Of course we would always want to do more and there was always scope for improvement but we were significantly above the national average for scientific literacy and around the average for reading and mathematics.

Put that the Government should be more humble now that things were going in the wrong direction, the PMS repeated that of course you could always do more, as Ed Balls and DCSF were saying. There was no room for complacency but our own national curriculum and GCSE results told us that standards were rising.

Iraq Hostages Video

Asked for the reaction to the video issued by the kidnappers of five Britons aired by Al Arabiya television demanding Britain to leave Iraq and put that there was some talk of a COBR meeting, the PMS said that he was not aware of anything at Ministerial level regarding COBR. The Foreign Office had issued a statement on the footage which the PMS reiterated; we had seen the media broadcast of the footage; we condemned the publication of the video which served only to add to the distress of the men's families and friends. It was our long-established policy not to comment on such footage and we encouraged others not to speculate, as that would be unhelpful and distressing for the families concerned.

US Report re Iran

Asked if the Prime Minister had talked to President Bush regarding the latest report from the US about Iran's nuclear ambitions, the PMS said that we were in very close contact with the American administration and the White House at all levels. David Miliband had done a very full interview on this subject at lunchtime and that was the most authoritative statement of the Government's position.

Party Funding

Asked if there was a discussion at Cabinet about party funding and legislation, the PMS repeated what he had said in the morning press briefing; there was a brief update from Jack Straw on party funding which was more of a factual update, reiterating some of the points from the Prime Minister's speech on Saturday, and ahead of the debate this afternoon.

Nimrod Report

Asked what the Prime Minister's reaction regarding the Nimrod report was, the PMS said that Des Browne was giving a statement on behalf of the Government at that moment and it was best to wait for that to finish.

Put that there had been suggestions that the aircraft used was too old, the PMS said that this was a particular incident and Des Browne was setting out, in a highly detailed manner, the exact details of circumstances surrounding the tragic event. It was best to wait for Des Browne to make that statement to Parliament.


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