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Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): The Secretary of State referred to the Teacher Training Agency, and he always tries to convey the impression that he is a sound traditionalist, although it is obvious that Mr. Chris Woodhead, among others, is not so persuaded. Is the right
Mr. Blunkett: From memory! That is a remarkable achievement. I reinforce my congratulations. What a smart and able Member the hon. Member for Buckingham is, and what a smart Alec, too. As far as I am aware, the three authors to whom he referred had nothing to do with the literacy hour. Fortunately, the phrase that he memorised and quoted has not passed over my desk.
Having disposed of that matter, we can get back to reality, which is the £200 million allocated last Wednesday--£100 million of revenue for running costs, and £100 million of devolved capital for heads and governors to use. Incidentally, that brings the amount of devolved capital available for investment in repair and renewal during the spending period 2003-04 to £600 million a year. That compares with £683 million, which was the total for capital investment in repair, renewal and new build for the whole of England in 1996-97. It clearly shows the transformation that has taken place as we move to an £8.5 billion investment in repair and renewal of our schools, which will help teachers to do the job better, will make the teaching profession more attractive and will ensure that youngsters get the environment they deserve.
Today, we are introducing new measures. Conservative Members raised the issue of administration and bureaucracy. I can announce a £35 million investment from the capital modernisation fund, which is entirely new money that was not announced last Wednesday. I am grateful to my Treasury colleagues for releasing £35 million for us to invest in a new management information system. It will enable us to ensure that we can collect, collate and transfer data, and thus avoid the statistical nightmare of constant data collection for different purposes. It will be possible to transfer data between schools and age groups, so that the unique pupil number and added value measures can be introduced more effectively; so that collated information on children in the primary sector can be transferred easily and quickly to secondary schools; and so that we can reduce the volume of form filling to about one working week per head per year, which will make a substantial contribution to reducing pressure on heads and teachers. I am pleased that we have been able to make a start on that.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): My party strongly supports the introduction of a bureaucracy- buster and the passing on of records, which is an excellent initiative, but how does the Secretary of State intend to commission the work? One of the great problems in the past has been that schools and education authorities have all gone their own way. Unless the software is consistent, the system will fall down when children transfer from one authority or school to another.
Mr. Blunkett: I entirely agree that there has been a problem, although, in the context of Government as a whole, my Department's record on implementing new technology--in the Student Loans Company or in the development of the national grid for learning--is not bad. In the latter context, we shall want to move quickly, in consultation with representatives of heads and with the e-envoy, to ensure that we get it right. Compatibility is an important factor.
The retention and recruitment package will build on steps that we have already taken. Whatever people may feel about the immediate problem of recruitment, there has been a remarkable turnaround in the attitude to teaching, especially among young people. I would not go so far as to say that teaching has become fashionable again, but a 19 per cent. uplift in applications for the next academic year and a remarkable increase in the number of inquiries constitute symbols of hope.
This time last year, there were 51,000 inquiries; this year, there have been 141,000. The 19 per cent. uplift in applications for September--which, of course, will not feed through in terms of teachers in the classroom for another 18 months--includes a 14 per cent. increase in maths applications, a 27 per cent. increase in science applications and a 7 per cent. increase in modern languages applications. That is a substantial and welcome improvement, which we must build on as quickly and effectively as possible; but we must also keep teachers in the classroom, which is why our measures are about retention as well as recruitment.
It will certainly not help if teachers walk away from children, leaving others to cover classes, denying the children an education and reducing their chances of future success. It will not help those children to do well in tests, GCSEs and A-levels. No one will gain unless those in classrooms act as professionals and ensure that cover is provided while we take the measures that have been demanded to lighten the pressure and ensure that enough teachers are in the classrooms. I thank all the professionals who have been doing that job--under considerable strain in some schools--and appeal to others not to make matters worse by walking away from children who need teachers to cover their classes.
This is a real problem, which arises from decades of under-recruitment and loss to the profession. Together, we need to do something substantial to ensure that, while we await the outcome of new applicants' training, a return to teaching is an attractive option.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): Along with others, I raised a number of problems relating to the graduate teacher programme during a recent Opposition day debate on the teaching profession. We mentioned the calculation of subjects that would qualify for the programme, and various other issues to do with the qualifications of those entering it. The Secretary of State undertook to tackle those problems; what has he done?
Mr. Blunkett: I was planning to deal with that matter later, but I shall do so now. The hon. Lady proposed to slim down the administration and application of school- based graduate teacher programmes. I am pleased to tell her that we will take the action that she advocated. I said that we would examine her proposals, and I meant it. We have accepted them and shall implement them. They are part of the programme that we are announcing today.
As we are on the subject, I can also announce that we shall substantially increase the graduate teacher programme by adding another 570 places, bringing the total number to 2,250. That will make a substantial contribution to enabling people with experience to receive a salary while training and to encouraging them. The increase will commence at Easter.
I am seeking to ensure that we do not treat the issue as a football to be kicked around. I am prepared to listen and to learn. I shall continue to offer everyone--Members and members of the public--the opportunity to offer ideas on how to deal with teacher shortages in some of our schools and some of our regions. I assure the House that we will work with people and take those ideas on board.
Mr. Willis: In our previous debate on the subject, the issue of the degree requirements for those who wish specifically to access key stage 3 teacher training was raised. Graduates who had not trained in a national curriculum subject were being denied access to training. The Secretary of State said that he would investigate the issue and report back. Has there been any progress on it?