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Mr. Blunkett: Although I shall try to avoid reporting back on everything today, I shall do my best, so that hon. Members can tick off the boxes. I acknowledged that there was an issue, and we have investigated it. We have also agreed with the Teacher Training Agency and institutions that if the course content of a degree is sufficient to provide assurances that an individual has the necessary background and foundation to take on a specialism, that individual may access training for the specialism. In our previous debate, a psychology degree was cited as an example. If graduates are able to show that their psychology degree involved sufficient statistics content to enable them to undertake maths training, they should be able to participate in such training.

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I hope that that assures the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) that we are trying to balance the desire to ensure quality with the relevance of an individual's background. We are trying also to offer upgrade courses in specialised subjects, so that there is not an automatic cut-off for applicants. Those who are particularly committed and interested should be able to take in-service courses, making it possible for them to transfer to those specialisms.

In some schools and some parts of the country, non-specialists have had to take on specialist teaching to ensure that cover is provided. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, as an ex-teacher, will be aware that that has happened for many years. As someone who taught in a college of technology, I was aware that it was happening around me. I shall never forget being asked to teach law. I said that although I had A-level law, I was not intent on teaching it. I think that many teachers have found themselves in a similar position.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are victims of our own success? The simple fact that an extra 1.1 million people are in jobs, that wages are increasing and that there are pressures on housing markets in the south-east perhaps helps to explain why, although we are investing enormous sums in teacher supply, it is still difficult to square the circle. Although standards are rising, there are still many options for good teachers.

Mr. Blunkett: There are indeed. By trying to recruit more teachers, rather than fewer; by recruiting an extra 7,000 teachers in the past two years while seeking to reduce class sizes and ensure not only in-service training for mainstream teachers but training for supply teachers; by putting in place booster classes that are attractive to supply teachers; and by offering professional development courses that teachers find attractive, but which require cover, we are perhaps making a rod for our own back in trying to match supply and demand. That is particularly true in high-cost areas in which attractive salaries can be paid and there are additional costs. That is why the review body report recommended substantial uplifts of 30 per cent. in London weighting and outer-London weighting and retention bonuses of £5,000 a year to be rolled into a £15,000 package of retention over three years. That is why performance-related pay, which we introduced, is so critical. It offers not simply an uplift of £2,000 for good teachers but access to new pay scales of an additional £4,000. That will make a difference to retaining as well as attracting teachers.

This afternoon's package will deal with the problem of how we get people back into the profession now. The immediate £2,000 incentive--£4,000 for shortage subjects, which matches the bonus that is already in place for new recruits to the profession--will, I hope, be an attractive proposition, but it needs to be matched by other measures. Those measures will include an acceleration of the graduate teacher programme and a £35 million programme of funded measures this year, to be matched by at least £35 million in the next financial year. The money will go directly to head teachers and governors, without bureaucracy and administrative difficulty. There has to be co-ordination. We want a light-touch approach at local authority or area level, using the recruitment managers who are already paid for by the Department and are in place.

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The money will enable head teachers to pay for additional housing costs and for care components, if needed, to help returners with the costs of child care and of caring for older relatives. It will enable travel costs to be met and changes to incremental scales to be offered. The scale on which a post is offered can be changed to meet the needs of a returner, whether that person has just had a family or took early retirement.

I was tickled to hear that one of the agencies had written to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, an ex-head teacher, to ask whether he would like to come back to the profession. I gather that he has reserved his position until after the election--a wise man. I have been out of the profession for so long that no one has sent me anything, but one never knows.

The new funding will be made available immediately, but through the review body we will simultaneously consult to avoid any misunderstandings or allegations that we did not consult. We will ensure that the money is made available as speedily as possible to those who return to the profession.

I hope that the measures will enable us to say to people on the edge of returning to the profession that this is an appropriate moment to do so. We will offer free update courses of six weeks and child care provision. We will also pay a bursary during those six weeks so that there is no disadvantage to the family.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I congratulate the Secretary of State on what he and his colleagues have been doing to improve standards, particularly with regard to the recent intervention on behalf of schools in Thurrock. That was timely and much appreciated by parents and me.

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to revisit a problem with the allocation of scarce resources from the Department? I understand that the indices include the number of children who have free school meals and levels of employment. In my area, although unemployment levels are not high, a lack of wealth and opportunity is disguised by the large retail sector, which pays relatively low salaries. The numbers of the many children who are greatly deprived are not reflected in the indices of free school meals and unemployment. The allocation of funds needs fine tuning to reflect traditionally poor areas.

Mr. Blunkett: There is always a problem with crude measures versus complexity--between trying to set up simple measures of deprivation and the complicated evaluations that inevitably have to be dealt with through greater central administration. There is a dichotomy between what is fair and what is simple, as I can well understand, for example, in relation to the pupil learning credits that we announced in the Green Paper.

This afternoon's package will be aimed at areas where vacancies exist; it will be tailored both to particular geographical areas and to schools with the biggest problems. The money will follow the problem and will thus be related not to prosperity or hidden deprivation but to the specific problem that we want to overcome. As with other measures in the Green Paper, we shall apply some of the resources proposed in last week's Budget, together with the spending review allocations, to ensure that we can be flexible on other measures that will be attractive and fair to people coming into the profession.

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As I said, some hon. Members are concerned about undergraduates taking BEd and BA courses. We want to use some of the Budget resources for experiments in the fourth year of such undergraduate courses to enable students to achieve qualified teacher status early and move into the classroom as appropriate, and to help them financially. I look forward to being able to move on that matter, on which there will be further consultation.

I hope that this afternoon's package will enable us, once again, to appeal to people to work together, rather than against each other, to solve a genuine difficulty. Success breeds success, as schools show through their higher standards and achievement; and, with the additional support and resources that have been made available, they will be able to tell others that teaching is an excellent profession to be in. We can see from the increased number of applications that young people believe that. We can reach out to former teachers and draw them back into the profession.

We cannot solve all the problems that arise from the success of the economy in parts of the country where prosperity puts enormous pressure on housing costs and offers alternative employment. However, we can take steps to match that. We are putting in place the precise measures that most people wanted, ensuring that recruitment, retention and reward go hand in hand. In a spirit of collaboration, we are challenging the main Opposition party to say whether it will match the funding that we are putting in place. The commitment of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor applies only to money allocated to schools. However, there will be allocations from the DFEE budget for many of the measures that we are taking, including the information technology package to reduce administration. Given the extra resources that we are putting in, in the event of the Opposition miraculously finding themselves on the Government Benches, it would be interesting to hear where the cuts of £8 billion and tax cuts of £8 billion would be imposed. I doubt that Conservative Members will answer the question because no one in Conservative central office has worked it out yet. Everyone outside knows perfectly well that the sums do not add up.

The foundations that we are laying today will carry forward opportunity for all our children, investment in schools across the country, greater delegation of budgets and the freedom of heads to use them. We are introducing measures that directly address the problem of recruitment. We are overcoming the legacy of years of neglect that we inherited. We are very pleased indeed to have been able to do that. I am grateful to the Chancellor for enabling me to announce these measures this afternoon.


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