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Mr. Green: The hon. Gentleman was doing well up to his last comment. It used to be possible to recruit teachers and it is increasingly difficult now. All those teachers who are now in their forties were recruited in the 18 years of Conservative government. The mantra that Labour Members were taught in 1997 to blame everything on the previous Administration has run out. This is the second

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term of a Labour Government. The previous Administration is their Administration. If there are problems with teacher retention and recruitment, it is their problem; it is not the responsibility of teachers or a previous Government.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the problem is that we do not know whether that is the case because education spending did not increase in real terms during the four or five years up to 1997? Since then, there has been, certainly in East Sussex, a 25 per cent. increase in education spending. Is not that the real issue?

Mr. Green: Every single one of those facts is wrong. Average spending in the period 1992-97 was higher as a proportion of gross domestic product than in the first term of this Government, who cut education spending in real terms. That is why there are so many problems.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) read the NUT survey, and I hope that Ministers have read it, because a lack of classroom discipline is cited ahead of pay as a reason for teachers being driven out of the profession. Some 45 per cent. of them say that that is a reason for leaving, yet the Government have consistently taken disciplinary powers away from head teachers over the past few years. If they do nothing else in schools in the next year, I urge the Secretary of State to return disciplinary powers to heads and teachers so that they can decide what happens in their schools.

I also urge the Secretary of State not to believe that she can spin her way out of the crisis. When the Government stifle teachers with bureaucracy and prevent heads from enforcing discipline, it steadily drives good teachers, who all our children need, out of the profession. Teachers are too intelligent to be fooled by the Government spin machine. They will not let their crisis in morale be buried, and neither will Conservative Members.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does my hon. Friend agree that one unintended effect of abolishing corporal punishment in schools is that if a teacher lays a finger on a child, or is accused of doing so, he or she is suspended and investigated, which often results in undeserved professional ruin?

Mr. Green: There is a problem in the length of time that it takes to hear cases against teachers, so many of whom are acquitted. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is too much noise in the Chamber.

Mr. Green: If Ministers do not think it a problem that teachers are suspended from work for a long period and then acquitted, with inevitable damage to their professional career, I feel sorry for them, because that is a serious crisis, which many teachers recognise.

The Government cannot hide from the fact that standards in maths for 11-year-olds slipped this year. If the Secretary of State is willing to take the credit when exam standards rise, she cannot evade responsibility when they fall. Her predecessor famously said that he would resign if the targets were not met by 2002, and I

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understand that as 2002 approaches, the right hon. Lady is prudently withdrawing from that commitment. However, parents cannot withdraw, and they want to know what is happening and what the Government are doing about it.

Parents also want to know why popular schools are too often prevented from expanding. I have received a copy of a letter sent to a woman in the west midlands whose experience is typical of parents throughout the country. The letter suggests that as she is unlikely to get her first choice of school for her children, she should put down three choices, but it then says that she is unlikely to get any of the other choices. The problems experienced by parents in exercising the choice that all parties want them to have is another crisis that the Government need to address.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Does my hon. Friend agree that the crisis in teachers' morale is certainly not helped when they find that their hard work with their pupils is not rewarded when exams come to be marked? At Doctor Challoner's high school in my constituency, which is an excellent grammar school, all the key stage 3 English tests had to be remarked, resulting in 54 pupils having their levels raised and five pupils having them dropped. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need reliable test results in which teachers, parents and pupils can have confidence?

Mr. Green: My hon. Friend is right and she makes a powerful point.

I know, as the Secretary of State does, that there is much good work in our schools, but there would be so much more if the Government stopped interfering and let schools make more decisions for themselves. She and I were at the national teaching awards last week, and I am sure that she, like me, was in awe of some of the work being done by the best teachers and the best schools. I put it to her that no decision or interference by her, by me or by any other politician would improve the standards of such teachers and, too often, politicians are the problem, not the solution, in our schools.

Ms Claire Ward (Watford): If the hon. Gentleman believes that parents should have the right to choose the school, why did he support the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) when he said that he believed the Conservative party would free schools so that they could select between 20 and 40 per cent. of their pupils? Surely that is hypocritical if the hon. Gentleman believes that parents should have the choice.

Hon. Members: Ask the Prime Minister.

Mr. Green: As my hon. Friends say, the hon. Lady should ask the Prime Minister, but she should also ask the Secretary of State and consider her Government's policies on specialist schools. The idea that schools should be able to select a proportion of their pupils does not divide the two Front Benches, so if the hon. Lady believes what she said, and she may do so honourably, she is opposing the policy of her own party.

The crises are not confined to schools. The student loans system has hit so many problems that even the Department has noticed and decided to start again. Debt

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problems have become such a burden for so many students that all the Government's rhetoric about encouraging students from different backgrounds to go to university has been shown to be so much hype.

Not only was that crisis predictable, it was predicted. Four years ago, we said that the Government's combination of loans and fees would not work, and it has not worked. Our criticism now is that having messed it up once, the Government are not willing to have a full and open debate about how to do it better next time. Instead, they are going back inside Government to cook up another policy internally; only after they make a decision will they deign to have what they will, no doubt, call consultation, but which will in fact be nothing of the sort.

Further education is not spared the crisis. Teacher morale in FE is arguably lower than in schools, yet where is the money going? It is going into central bureaucracy. In The Times Higher Education Supplement last week, John Brennan of the Association of Colleges pointed out that the old system of funding FE and the training and enterprise councils cost £150 million, whereas the new system of the Learning and Skills Council will cost £193 million next year—that is £43 million less for front-line services.

Across the board, there is a crisis in education. The Secretary of State should learn from her predecessor, who spent his first few weeks at the Home Office undoing some of the worst policies of his predecessor and moving towards some of the policies first advocated by the Opposition. If he can do it, she can. The right hon. Lady has been left a legacy of too much interference, too much paperwork, demoralised teachers, angry parents, disillusioned students and an education sector that demands and deserves much, much better. I commend our motion to the House.

4.16 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

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I, too, attended the teaching awards last weekend. I have nothing but praise for the organisers and especially for the teachers throughout the regions and the nation who were applauded at that event. However, the teachers with whom I spoke that evening would not have recognised the school system that the Opposition spokesman describes. They were talking not only about high standards and how enjoyable and fulfilling they found their job, but about extra resources, the success of the literacy and numeracy strategies, repairs to school buildings and the opportunity to be paid more for the job that they do.

I listened carefully to the speech that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) made to his party conference last month, in which he spoke of the importance of talking about the good things and of not knocking teachers. Today, I listened in vain for any acknowledgement of the improvements and achievements of the past four years. I shall not go on about the failures of past Governments—the hon. Gentleman is right, it was a long time ago—but I shall take a few minutes to describe the successes of the past four years, which have not so far been mentioned.

We have made incredible progress in raising standards in reading and writing, but the really magical aspect of the literacy and numeracy hours is where the most improvement has been made. Taking local education authorities throughout the country, we find that the greatest improvement has been achieved in Tower Hamlets, Newham and other deprived London boroughs on which the Conservative central Government turned their backs year after year. The success of the literacy and numeracy hours is not just that between 12 and 14 per cent. more children now enter secondary school with the basic skills they need to learn effectively, but that under the Labour Government we are for the first time beginning to close the gap between those who achieve and those who do not.

That success can be seen in GCSE performance statistics. We have almost reached the target of 50 per cent. of pupils getting five A-starred to C grades, but what is even more important is that the best progress is being made in areas of great urban deprivation under the excellence in cities programme. At the end of the first 18 months of that programme, the improvement in GCSE performance—pupils achieving five A-starred to C grades—in those areas far exceeded the improvement achieved throughout the country.

The hon. Gentleman argues that if progress has been made, that has been done by the teachers, but if progress has not been made, that has been done by the Government. In fact, progress has been achieved through partnership. Yes, teachers have done the most work and should receive the most credit. Yes, the reason that standards have risen is that the quality of teaching in our classrooms has improved in the past four years. However, for the first time in two decades, teachers have had a Government who support them. That has not been confined to investing in education. I defy the hon. Gentleman to enter a school that does not acknowledge that it is getting more money in its budgets year on year now than it ever had under the Tories. I deny that he would find a school where an increase in capital cannot be found. The achievement has been brought about by dint of better quality teaching. That has been supported by greater investment in teachers and greater investment in building. There has been good solid work to ascertain

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what succeeds in terms of the literacy strategy, the numeracy strategy, excellence in cities, education action zones and the key stage 3 strategy.

All this has seen 40,000 more classroom assistants in our schools and more computers for children than we ever saw under the previous Government. It has brought about an increase in standards for which every person in the education service—not only teachers and government but local authorities, local advisers, governors and all those who work in supporting our schools—has reason to be proud.

I am not complacent. I know that there is still an historic connection between social class and education attainment. I know that for every child who goes to school and cannot read effectively by 11, there is a life chance denied. We face that and we challenge that. We come to terms with the situation and overcome it. That is done day on day. Four years of partnership and determination to address and raise standards has brought about the highest increase in standards at every age group that we have seen for many a year.

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