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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): The right hon. Lady talks about standards improving over the past four years. Surely she would acknowledge that standards of behaviour in our schools have not improved over that period. Standards of behaviour, quality of life and discipline in our schools have deteriorated under the Government. That is the opinion of the chief inspector of schools, who highlighted the problem in his annual report, as the right hon. Lady will know. Why have the Government not addressed the problem? Why is the problem getting worse, and what will she do about it?

Estelle Morris: I shall start the second part of my speech by being in agreement with what the hon. Member for Ashford said in the first part of his. I agreed when he said at the Conservative party conference that a child who has never heard the word no by the age of five can hardly be thought to have the skills, confidence and ability to behave well at school, and that teachers pick up these problems. I do not differ substantially from what he said. I think that the behaviour of some children in schools is far worse than when I taught, and far worse than a generation ago. However, that is not the fault of the education service alone. It is often the fault of parents who do not bring up their children with the discipline and structure that they need by the age of five, and that is when it matters. Every child of that age should go to school knowing how to behave.

We are doing something about the situation by means of sure start and working with parents. We have spent £2 billion on early years rather than the £1 billion that was spent by the previous Government. There is an early years place for every four-year-old. There has been a massive increase in places for every three-year-old. This means that more parents—most parents want to be able to discipline their child—will have support before their child reaches the age of five and goes to school than ever before.

A third of our secondary schools is covered by excellence in cities. We have a programme of learning mentors that teachers tell us is helping them, and that is not only to deal with the problem of teaching other children, but to deal as well with the very children whose

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behaviour is causing a problem. There were no learning support units on site under the previous Government. These units are helping too because teachers can now ask a child to leave a class in the knowledge that he or she will go to an on-site learning support unit where they will receive the support that they need.

If a child is excluded, he or she does not get only two hours of education a week, which is what we inherited from the previous Government. We are moving so that by September 2002 we shall have reached our target of every excluded child getting full-time education. It is a disgrace that in 1997 the Conservative Government were prepared to allow some of the most vulnerable children not to receive full-time education if they were excluded. That is another example of how we are helping. I am not complacent, but our record of helping schools to cope with behaviour is better than it ever has been.

Several hon. Members rose

Estelle Morris: I will give way once more and then I will make progress.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): The right hon. Lady made a statement that was factually incorrect. Back in 1984, under the last Conservative Government, I taught in a school with an on-site learning support unit. Frankly, I do not know why she is talking such rubbish.

Estelle Morris: Of course I accept that individual schools had learning support units, but there was not a planned programme called "Learning support units"; that was initiated by the present Government—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) must be calm.

Estelle Morris: Wise words, Mr. Speaker.

There was not a concerted plan, with money committed year after year, called "Learning support units", which has now been rolled out in urban secondary schools. I do not deny that some schools made their own arrangements to deal with badly behaved children. In fact, like the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), I taught at a secondary school with its own unit, but it was not called a learning support unit; there was no plan for a roll-out of learning support units, nor were there sufficient pupil referral units off-site or full-time education for pupils needing learning support.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) rose

Estelle Morris: If the hon. Gentleman remains calm for a little longer, I may look on him kindly later, but not now.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) rose

Estelle Morris: I may look even more kindly on the right hon. Gentleman if he sits down and lets me make a little progress. I want to have time to address individual learning accounts; I am in danger of not being able to do that if I do not make progress.

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Before doing so, however, I shall touch on two issues raised by the hon. Member for Ashford as I am keen to set the record straight. For the record, last Thursday, the Teacher Training Agency published figures on teacher recruitment and retention, and we issued a supporting press notice. The figures had been planned by the TTA for a considerable period and, if the hon. Gentleman checks, I believe that he will be happy to withdraw his allegation that they were rushed out at the last minute in response to a survey and report by the National Union of Teachers.

Teacher recruitment figures are good and they demonstrate progress and success. They should be welcomed and applauded; they are a good thing for our education system. There are more teachers going into teaching than at any time since 1992; there is a second successive increase in the number of people choosing teaching as a career. More importantly, in almost every shortage subject, there is an increase in recruitment; there has been a 20 per cent. increase in maths and a 10 per cent. increase in other shortage subjects. I know that that is not enough and that we have not yet reached our targets but, after all, we have told the House that we inherited a historic failure to achieve targets; we achieved our teaching recruitment targets only during times of economic recession.

The important thing about the last two years is not just that we have improved teacher recruitment but that we have done so against the background of a tight graduate recruitment market. Graduates have real choices about where they go, with excellent financial offers from the private sector, the City and other companies. Nobody has to recruit as many graduates as the teaching profession, the Government and local authorities; if we include those who train through work-based routes, we have recruited more than 30,000 teachers this year, which is an 8 per cent. increase. I know that that is not enough—I am not claiming that for a minute—but hon. Members should remember that teaching is the first-choice career of most people leaving university in this country. There is not one profession, job or employer recruiting the number that we manage to recruit to teaching. In the past four years, against the background of a tight recruitment market, we have stemmed, slowed down, stopped and reversed the decline in the number of people going into teaching.

Mr. Boswell: The Secretary of State talked about quantity and the number of teachers recruited. Will she give similar assurances about the quality of teacher recruitment?

Estelle Morris: I think that they are a smashing bunch; the people coming into teaching now are of a better quality than ever before. The hon. Gentleman belongs to a party that has talked about teacher morale; I cannot think of a worse way of attacking teacher morale than saying to young people joining the profession now that they are not as good as their predecessors a generation ago. They deserve our thanks, our confidence, our praise and our best wishes for entering the fine profession of teaching.

The hon. Gentleman might say that that is Government hype or a case of trying for headlines. He is generous in nature and I know that he is serious about his commitment to education. I take his comments seriously, which is why I advise him to look at the Ofsted report. It says that inspectors have found that newly qualified teachers are now as good as our more experienced staff. I sense that

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and see it when I go around schools. The NQTs are better prepared; they are good teachers; they have a real choice of careers to follow.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Estelle Morris: I may shortly, but I first want to move to the issue of retention.

I know that there is a problem with retention, but let us look at the figures. About 12 to 15 per cent. of those entering teacher training do not go on to teach. I am not saying that that is acceptable—I wish it were better—but it is probably reasonable. There have always been some who have gone into teacher training but not entered the profession. The drop-out rate from under-graduate courses is about 17 per cent. It is lower in teaching than in other courses. Some of the trainee teachers will not be good enough to pass the course; some will not like teaching; some will finish their teaching practice year but find that the profession is not for them. The figure of between 12 and 15 per cent. has remained pretty constant over previous years; it has always been the way. Others drop out before the end of five years' teaching. Again, some will have found that the profession is not for them. That figure has been pretty consistent, but I acknowledge that it rose last year.

The figure concerning teacher retention that is never quoted is that, of those leaving the profession, 13,000 a year return. They do not go for ever; they do not vanish never to be seen again. Let us remember that 70 per cent. of the work force is female and that many will leave for career breaks, to have children and to bring up families. Of course I worry about teacher retention. Retaining those whom we have done so well to recruit is always at the top of my priorities, but I ask Conservative Members and those outside the House to remember that 12,000 to 13,000 teachers a year return to the profession. I know that there is more to do on retention.

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