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Estelle Morris: The way we count teachers and arrive at the conclusion that there are 11,000 more than in 1997 is exactly the way in which the previous Government did the teacher count--nothing has changed. We all have a responsibility for the message that we send about the work of the profession. Opposition parties that say that there has not been an increase in the number of teachers in the classroom let down teachers and parents.

Will the hon. Lady comment on her target for increasing teacher recruitment? The Conservative party made it clear that it would not devote one penny to that, so we can be thankful that we have the resources. There will be 10,000 more teachers. Will she also acknowledge that the number of people leaving the profession is not sky high, as she said, and that the net gain over the past four years is indeed 11,000?

Mrs. May: The only people who are letting down parents, pupils and teachers are the Government, who consistently refuse to accept the extent of the crisis in teacher shortages. During the general election campaign, at the conference of the National Association of Head Teachers, I heard the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), the Chairman of the Select Committee, tell head teachers that there was no problem of teacher shortages and no crisis. He received the expected reaction from head teachers, who would not believe him because

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they knew the reality. Once again, the Government are setting their face against the reality of what is happening in our schools.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): The hon. Lady had selective hearing that day, as she obviously has today. I have a witness sitting on the Liberal Benches who will attest to this. I acknowledged that there were problems, but I do not accept her constant theme of crisis, crisis, crisis. That is not true, and that is the case that I made.

Mrs. May: There is a crisis, as is evident from The Times Educational Supplement, which advertises 9,000 jobs in a week. The sum of £7 million has been taken out of our schools' expenditure, and head teachers must search desperately to find teachers to fill their vacancies. It is time that the Government accepted that there is a crisis in schools, and realised that the bureaucracy and red tape that they have loaded on to teachers over the past four years is causing teachers to leave the profession. That is happening in other public services as well. People cannot deliver the quality of public service that they want to deliver to pupils, patients and others who use our public services.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May: I must make some progress. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

Perhaps the Government's reluctance to face the issue of teacher vacancies is not surprising, given that The Times Educational Supplement and the Secondary Heads Association estimate that the current number of vacancies in secondary schools alone is 10,000. The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers estimates that there are some 30,000 vacancies in total. Against that background, a policy of recruiting an extra 10,000 teachers, be they full-time equivalents or not, over five years will make no real difference.

While the Government, during the election campaign, were denying that there was a crisis in teacher vacancies, Anwell Jones, the deputy head teacher of Ashford high school in Surrey, was warning:

One of the first priorities of the Secretary of State must surely be to ensure that standards in our schools do not suffer as a result of the crisis of teacher vacancies, yet there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to address the issue; nor is there any sign of the urgent action that needs to be taken to restore the morale of the teaching profession.

We await the findings of the study commissioned by the Government into teachers' work load, but that has kicked the problem into the long grass, and action is needed today. Notwithstanding the findings of that report, the Government must quickly find a way to ensure that teachers are trusted again, feel valued and receive the support that they need from Government, not constant interference. That is today's problem, which needs action

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now. All the Secretary of State's promised reforms will be worthless if there are not enough teachers to put them into practice.

The House will be aware that, as has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), there has been a major problem with the new AS-level system. It is clearly important that students are provided with a breadth of studies. The Secretary of State mentioned the need for a breadth of curriculum, but what is worrying about the AS system, combined with requirements for key skills, is not only the work load that it imposes on students, but the way in which other activities, such as sports, voluntary work and the arts, are being crowded out.

At a time when young people should be given opportunities to develop not just study skills in individual subjects but wider interests and involvements, there is simply no time. In the Daily Telegraph yesterday there was a report on AS-levels.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): This will be authoritative.

Mrs. May: We hear laughter from those on the Labour Benches, but I shall quote students and teachers. I know that the Government have difficulty with that, but they are people who have been through the AS-level experience and speak about its impact. For example, Amy Jackson, a 17-year-old who has just finished sitting the old-style A-levels, said:

Far from broadening the experience of those young people, their experience has been narrowed.

The deputy head of Mill Hill, Julian Johnson-Mundy, said:

The principal of Cardiff Academy spoke of the reason for these problems:

The consequence is

We welcome the fact that the Government have set up a review to examine what has happened. Although change needs to be carefully thought through and introduced to prevent further problems, it is clear that action needs to be taken to resolve problems before next year. However, we need a wider debate. We need to ask whether the new AS exams were exams too far. Has not the time come for a national debate on our qualifications system post-16? We owe it to our young people to get that right. Mere tinkering at the edges risks further change and further problems down the road.

Much focus has been placed on schools, and the Secretary of State noted that the Government's programme is focused entirely on secondary schools. However, another

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part of our education system has been experiencing difficulties. The further education sector finds that it is losing lecturers to secondary schools. There is an industrial dispute in further education and all too often, in looking at the problems in FE, the Government forget that as many as 50 per cent. of FE colleges' staff may be support staff, not lecturers. Those are the immediate issues facing the Secretary of State, but they are not addressed in the Gracious Speech. We want action on those problems, not just on the structural reforms that the Government mention in their legislative programme.

The Government will be judged on whether they take action on such problems, not on whether they can introduce another education Bill in the House of Commons. We want an education system that delivers the type of schools that parents want for their children--schools where teachers can spend more time working with the children to make sure that they are properly motivated and get the best education possible, schools that give children a start in life that equips them to go on and realise their ambition and full potential, and schools with a sense of discipline where pupils can get on and learn without disruption from other pupils and where teachers are teachers, not policemen.

Mr. Rendel: The hon. Lady has said repeatedly that she wants to free up schools. What would she say to the head teacher of a small rural primary school in my constituency, who called me in during the election and said that teachers and head teachers were already doing far too much administration, and that she was worried about the possibility of a new Conservative Government because in her view freeing up schools would mean that more administration was passed from the local authority to the teachers and head teachers?

Mrs. May: I am grateful to that head teacher for her confidence in the election turning out somewhat differently than it did. She was identifying the strain that she was already feeling as a result of the bureaucracy imposed by this Labour Government.

This Labour Government will be judged over the next four or five years on whether they free up teachers to get on with the job of teaching and remove administrative burdens from head teachers--whether they give head teachers the freedom to make the decisions that they want to make for their schools and do not tie them up in red tape, circumscribing them constantly by telling them what to do and interfering. This Labour Government will be judged on whether, at the end of this Parliament, schools face fewer than 58 funding streams. All those different streams have different rules and are differently administrated--taking up more time and resources just to get money from the Government.

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