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There are 65 schools in the constituency and an amount of capital expenditure that they had never previously experienced has been used for more than half of them on new classrooms, replacement classrooms and new facilities, including those for disabled children. Every school has received money for staff roomsa necessary reward for teachers who often seemed to live in cupboards.
I visited two schools last Friday: Newtown, which has two new classrooms and disabled facilities on both its floors, and Grindleford, where a fine, tall Victorian building has been split horizontally to double the number of classrooms. A good job has been done at both schools.
I have been impressed with not only the extent to which new technology is being applied, but the use that is made of it in all the schools. We never considered that possible four or five years ago. Not only do teachers have computers, but they are in every classroom. Every school in my constituency is connected to the internet through the national grid for learning. Hope Valley college is the constituency's first technology college. It is a rural comprehensive school for pupils aged 11 to 16, and is 10 miles in any direction from the next secondary school. Through its technology college status, it has forged a partnership with every primary school in the valley to bring them into a common computer administration facility, to share and make economies of scale and to benefit from all the advantages of new technology. It has extra computers in its library and its classrooms. Although it is early days, it is worth pointing out the signs that investment in technology is producing.
Early signs show that such investment is tackling the boy-girl divide in attainment. Only two years of extra investment show a significant increase in boys' attainment. They have not quite caught the girls up, but their attainment has improved. That is also true of the girls, but the gap has been closed to some extent. That is an interesting early result from the school. I look forward to monitoring it further in future.
In 1997, Derbyshire had perhaps the worst record of key stage 1 class sizes of more than 30. It was appalling. Throughout the country, 477,000 children at key stage 1 were taught in classes of more than 30. That number increased every year for 11 years under the previous Government. We tackled class size head on. In September, not one child at key stage 1 in my constituency was in a class of more than 30 pupils. I believe that that applies to the whole of Derbyshire. That is a tremendous achievement, which brings genuine boons and advantages to the teachers, because it helps teachers to teach and children to learn, and it helps relationships, not least those between the adults and the children in the class.
Speaking of adults in classrooms, when I was visiting primary schools last week I was impressed by the number of adults around. Although one or two were parents who had come in voluntarily to help with reading schemes and so on, there were more educational care officers and classroom assistants than I had seen before. There was an altogether more thriving mixed adult-child community than I had previously seen in primary schools, and that is being welcomed by teachers, heads, governors and everyone else involved.
On the subject of picking up problems early, no one who has visited a primary school and talked to teachers can come away without realising that the vast majority of teachers appreciate what the literacy and numeracy strategies are doing. Those strategies have gone down very well with teachers and children, and are already leading to measurable increases in literacy and numeracy standards. They are addressing the problems of adult literacy to which my hon. Friendmy hon. neighbourthe Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) referred, and the problems that have beset a generation of younger people who needed such help through the new deal and so on.
We also have beacon schools in the High Peak constituencyschools that are recognised for their excellence. We are using the facility of the beacon schools to disseminate information and to help others to learn.
There has been huge appreciation for the direct funding in the form of the no-strings-attached cash payments made to schools. There is, however, a two-headed danger attached to those sums. First, they create dependence. Secondly, because we raise the expectation of this additional funding, we need not only to avoid creating a dependency culture but to give assurances of longer-term funding for schools. The one-offor even the one-yearsettlement is no longer adequate. We need to examine longer-term settlements in terms of the cash payments made to our schools.
Children gain from nursery schools something that they carry with them for the rest of their lives. We not only have pre-school nursery provision for every four-year-old in Derbyshire, but are well on the way to having it for every three-year-old as well. I compare that with when I first started teaching in the mid-1970s. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) can have another guess at my age from that, if he likes. I first started teaching in Gloucestershire and, at that time, there were no children whatsoever in state nursery schools in that area. All that is behind us now, and it has become par for the course that education authorities, in partnership with others, should and do provide pre-school education.
I was a member of Derbyshire county council from 1993 until 1997. In those days, councillors who were members of the education committee and the education authority had only one task to perform. Our job was to manage cutsthe cuts, cuts, cuts that were imposed on us year after year by the then Conservative Government. We have heard no apology for those cuts in the House since 1997.
Several of the most vociferous opponents of the present SSA structureI give some credit to themsit on the Opposition Benches. Where were they when their Government were imposing those cuts, cuts, cuts on the Derbyshires, the Worcestershires and the Nottinghamshires of this land? They have much to answer for.
We engaged in a very necessary consultation on the whole basis of education funding, in which parents, governors, heads, teachers, local authorities and councillors were all entitled and encouraged to participate. Derbyshire people made strong representations that we should not be at the bottom in terms of funding. I accept that, after four years of the current Government, the difference between top and bottom may not be as great as it was, and the extra funds that have reached schools via non-SSA avenues are significant. Nevertheless, there is still a pecking order, and I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Ms Ward)if she is presentthat the justifications we have heard tonight do not wash. I hope that the problems caused by the pecking order, and the fact that Derbyshire and 40 other authorities have consistently been at the bottom of the funding league for many years, will be addressed.
A time when more money is going into education is the time to make changes, becauseone hopesno one will lose. No one will have to suffer cuts, so others can receive more: the icing, as it were, can be spread to fill the gaps.
As for failing schools, I think we have accepted now and again that some schools' performance is not up to scratch. I am delighted to say that one of the schools I visited last week, which I mentioned a moment ago, has ceased to be a failing school and is now clearly very successful. I am proud that this Government turn around failing schools in an average of 18 months, having inherited from the last Government a position where more than two years of uncertainty and distress was caused by failing school status.
The hon. Member for MidDorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) referred to teachers' pay, and many Members have referred to teacher supply. The hon. Lady said that the problem of teachers' pay should have been resolved earlier, and she has a point. As I recall, it was teachers themselves who, by means of judicial review or other legal moves, delayed the implementation of the present pay structurea structure about which there was much controversy at the time, but which, like all the arrangements I have mentioned so far, has clearly settled down well.
I share the frustration all must feel about the number of people who qualify as teachers and then either do not become teachers, or become teachers and do not stay long in the profession. When I became a teacher in 1976, it was the same: those who remained in teaching for three years had passed the first milestone, and many did not make the three years.
Last week I was at a dinner with some civil engineers who bemoaned the fact that only half those who gained civil engineering degrees went on to join the profession. I am sure that that is a problem that all industries and professions face, but with the present state of our economy there is competition for graduates. They can pick and choose where to go more than at other times. The other man's grass is often suggested to be greener.
I make one or two comments about some of the things that are going on in education that complement what goes on in schools. I am not quite getting bored with, and I never will get bored with, being invited to open Learn Direct centres. I have opened several in my constituency. I look forward to opening moreI do not get bored with them at all really. [Interruption.] I made the same joke when I opened the last one, so they have heard it before. They offer tremendous opportunities to people to partake in education, vocational or otherwise, particularly after they have left formal education.
The other week, I received a briefing from ConneXions, which will be up and running in Derbyshire from April next year. I was impressed with what it is doing. It is modernising and investing in the careers service, combining it with the youth service and with aspects of training, taking account of changes to the curriculum in schools with vocational education, and restoring prestige to vocational education, which disappeared from schools in the 1980s with the national curriculum. As a result, we lost a lot of vocational education, which was a vital choice for young people. All those influences have been brought together by ConneXions and I have great optimism that it will succeed.
I turn to individual learning accounts, which after all was almost certainly the business that inspired the Opposition to table the motion. I was impressed to hear that when parents in my constituency are invited to go on parenting courses, which happens sometimes regrettablyhon. Members will appreciate that often their education has not given them of the best in the pastno less than 60 per cent. choose to do another course. Many of those have been choosing ILAs as a way of taking that opportunity forward.
In some of those households, there is a choice. If they have £90, do they spend it on a computer literacy course or on the kid's school uniform? That is not a choice that they should have to face. They should have a right to education. The ILA has given them that right.
The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough made a good point about continuity. We know now what the timetable is for the ending of the ILAs as they currently stand. We need to know quickly what the timetable is for replacing them with something that is at least as good.
I list five issues that the Government need to take on board. The first is the ILA. The second is the SSA, which must be resolved in favour of counties and local authorities that have suffered from underfunding for many years. The third is league tables; value-added measurement in school league tables is essential, especially when we have small schools dealing with children with special educational needs. Just a few children can distort the league table result for SATs, and that is unfair on both the special needs children and the school itself.
The fourth issue is teacher work load. I understand that an independent report is to be published later this month. I warmly welcome that, and I hope that the Government will respond positively and quickly.
The fifth issue is student funding for higher education. From the young voters in my constituency, I understand that even those who were not considering university felt discriminated against by the very fact that there were fees to be paid, even though half the students entering university today do so without needing to pay them. I hope that the Government will consider the situation quicklyalthough perhaps not as quickly as the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) was saying earlierand seek to resolve it in a way that is acceptable to the majority of young people and young voters.