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Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend's concerns reflect those that hundreds of teachers throughout my constituency--from north to south and from west to east--have put to me over the past four years. Is she aware of a written answer given by the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) that said:

Given that the vacancy situation is three times worse in the capital than at national level and that one fifth of people who leave their posts are leaving the profession altogether, is that not the most damning indictment of the continuing failure of this Administration?

Mrs. May: As ever, my hon. Friend makes a telling intervention. It seems that the Minister of State, Home Office knows a great deal more than the Secretary of State for Education and Employment about what is happening

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in the education system today. The problem is that people are leaving the profession because of bureaucracy and red tape.

One has only to look at the 2 March edition of The Times Educational Supplement, which has a front-page heading, "Crisis? What crisis?" What annoys teachers, head teachers, governors and parents is that unlike the Minister of State, Home Office, the Secretary of State fails to recognise the impact of his policies on the morale of the profession and the crisis that his actions have generated in our schools. The headlines inside the TES say, "Morale plummets as shortages rise" and "Official denials only add insult to injury". The head teacher of New college, Leicester says:

The head teacher of the Malling school in Maidstone says:

That is what is happening in our schools under the Labour Government.

The Secretary of State tells us that everything is all right because the number of applications at the graduate teacher training registry has gone up. If we look back over the four years of this Government, we see that there are fewer applications than in 1997. Applications to teach maths have fallen by 21 per cent. since that year; applications to teach modern languages have fallen by 26 per cent. and applications to teach English have gone down by 19 per cent.

Despite all the cash incentives and all the money that the Government claim to be spending on the problem, teachers are still not coming forward. Teacher applications have fallen and teachers are leaving the profession because they are demoralised by the red tape and paperwork that the Government have imposed and because the Government's interference means that they can no longer get on with the job that they want to do, which is teaching children.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will my hon. Friend also comment on the management of the Department? I have just received two written answers to a parliamentary question. I asked the Secretary of State when he would reply to my letters dated 8 November and 21 September 2000 concerning the exclusion from holiday play schemes of children with medical conditions. I wonder if my hon. Friend can help me, because I have had two replies to the same question. The first says:

The second says:

Both those answers have just arrived on my desk. Can my hon. Friend tell me which is correct? Do I have a reply or not?

Mrs. May: I am sorry to say to my hon. Friend that I know the Secretary of State's mind no better than it seems he or his Ministers do. My hon. Friend makes a telling point about the bureaucracy in the Department--the very bureaucracy that causes problems for our schools and teachers. I can only suggest to him that perhaps the people

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who were supposed to be responding properly to his question were too busy drafting yet another circular to send to teachers.

We know that because of the shortage of teachers many schools have been able to operate without sending children home only because of the large number of supply teachers from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries. Unfortunately, those schools may soon find that they face another problem. An article in Sydney's The Sun-Herald yesterday said:

The headmaster of Chalvedon school and sixth form college in Essex, who recruited nine Australians, finds five months on that four of them have left. As another teacher said:

That is the state to which the Secretary of State has brought our education system in his four wasted years in office.

Let us look at funding for schools and bureaucracy. We know that the Government will never give schools all the money or stop the bureaucracy, because they simply do not trust teachers or parents. The Secretary of State referred in his speech to liberating the talents of individuals. I hardly think that his proposals for advanced specialist schools in the Green Paper represent "liberating the talents of individuals". Advanced specialist schools will be able to

Good--I am in favour of innovative ideas in education. However, as we read on, we learn that they can only do so

Yet again, the Government are obsessed with centralising and interfering, rather than letting schools get on with doing what they know is right for children in their classrooms.

As the former chief inspector of schools said:

That is what this Government have done instead of delivering on education.

Mr. Blunkett: I should be ever so grateful if the hon. Lady would tell me whether she agrees with one or two of the initiatives to which she is referring, such as the excellence in cities programme, the new deal for schools, the national grid for learning and the reduction in class size--all of which were listed as initiatives over and above the two with which the former chief inspector of schools agreed. Does she think that all or any of those should have been initiated, or would she abolish them?

Mrs. May: The Secretary of State still does not get the point. The point is that schools should be given all of their budget and allowed to spend it on what they think is right for children--not on what the Government think is right. Head teachers constantly tell me that they want the ability

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to spend the money that is due to their school in the way that they think fit--in the interests not of the Government but of children.

Mr. Willis: Will the hon. Lady clear up a misunderstanding, probably on my part? Will central funds be the same for each child in a primary school and for each child in a secondary school, wherever in the United Kingdom that school may be?

Mrs. May: No, the national funding formula will take account of some differential needs. I am happy to clear that up for the hon. Gentleman.

The next Conservative Government will get rid of the endless bureaucracy that takes teachers' time and resources and means that money is not spent in the best interests of children. We are absolutely clear that we will match the money that the Government are spending, and are proposing to spend, on schools. That will include the increases to which the Secretary of State referred in his speech today, which were announced in the Budget. Perhaps more important, we will tackle serious reform of education by devolving all budgets to schools and by ensuring that money which is currently held back by local education authorities and central Government goes to schools. That will mean hundreds of extra pounds per pupil for schools.

We are not just about devolving money. Head teachers should be given the freedom to do the job for which they were trained. A head teacher from Essex wrote to me recently:

The Secretary of State seems not to understand when teachers' representatives tell him that the introduction of the various initiatives that he has described will not bring teachers back into the profession or help to recruit more of them. Potential teachers do not want to join a profession in which they will be the mouthpieces of bureaucrats in the town hall and at Whitehall.

As the staff at Willowbank junior school said to me this morning, they long to bring creativity and spontaneity, which are now being pushed out because of the imposition of targets by the Government, back into the classroom. The Government are imposing pressure on schools to do things in the way they want. Teachers and young people going into teaching want the freedom to use the skills that they have developed to inspire young people. The Government have yet to learn that inspiration does not come from a Whitehall circular.

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