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Ms Ward: Has the hon. Gentleman discussed his ideas with his Front-Bench Treasury spokesperson, just to make sure that the Conservative party could afford those increases when it gets its policies together?

Mr. Simmonds: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. As she well knows, the Conservative party is undergoing a policy review, and I hope to make my own contribution in my own personal way. However, not only am I making suggestions to those on my Front

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Bench, but I hope that Ministers will listen to them because to date, since May 1997, many of them have not been picked up sufficiently by the Government.

I should also like to suggest a reduction in paperwork. We must retreat from the centralised, dogmatic approach. In short, we must allow teachers to teach. We must consider improving coastal-strip weighting, which involves paying teachers more to encourage them to come to areas such as Skegness, which I represent, where some schools have a terrible teacher shortage because teachers will not move or travel from the midlands, where they are currently based, to the coastal areas.

We must reassess the funding. The money must follow the pupil. I represent a constituency that has many seasonal workers, so classes can fluctuate by between 20 to 25 per cent. in a year. That creates enormous problems when the funding is based on a snapshot of the number of pupils in a school at a particular time.

I make a plea to the ministerial team: they must allow schools to exclude disruptive pupils without penalty. The current policy is causing immense harm.

In conclusion, schools should be centres of excellence and our education system should be one of which we can be proud, creating diversity, choice and equality of access for all. Those involved are currently weakened, confused, overworked and underpaid, despite the best efforts of the teaching staff.

9.16 pm

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, and I should like to thank a few hon. Members—in particular, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds), who has started to voice some of the enthusiasm that we have waited a long time to hear from Conservative Members, especially with regard to higher pay for teachers.

I thank the Opposition for the opportunity provided by today's debate. I also thank them for their conversion to spending and especially for their recognition that unions have a valuable part to play, which has been cited on many occasions. It is a pity that they did not recognise that during the 18 years when they were in power, and unions played no part in this country, but I welcome their late conversion.

I thank all our teachers for the work that they do for our children, especially in Staffordshire, and in Tamworth in particular, because I know exactly what they have to undergo. There is a very good LEA and a very good band of teachers, and we thank the Government for the money, especially the capital, that they have provided because the teachers do not now have to run around their classrooms putting buckets under leaks in the roofs every time that it rains. We have managed to put in new windows, to repair the roofs and to refurbish our schools.

Morale would be much higher were it not for a single fact: Staffordshire is the second worst funded shire county in this country. Although some people paint a picture of Staffordshire as a lovely leafy shire county, unfortunately it is not—we have pockets of what can only be described as urban deprivation. If we examine the standard spending assessment—and I urge the Government to do so very closely—we should seriously consider school catchment areas.

I could take certain schools out of my constituency and put them into any inner-city area, given that 60 or 65 per cent. of pupils in those schools receive free school dinners

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and 45 per cent. of the families are unemployed or on benefits. They have all the problems; they are entitled to single regeneration moneys; and they need extra staff. Although we have worked hard and well as a Government, we have further to go.

I should also like to thank my society for my education. I always remind myself of the phrase, "If you can read, thank a teacher." I thank my society for the money spent on my education. Given where I have ended up, I sometimes wonder whether it thinks that it got value for money.

I spent many years in education and higher education, but I overlooked one thing. I came to this place and sat on these green Benches, and I notice that through some form of osmosis—it has also happened to several of my colleagues and to some of the Opposition—I managed to acquire a PhD in hindsight. When we come here, we find it much easier to look back on the problems that we faced. I notice that an Opposition are always much cleverer than they were when they were in government. I do not know the reason for that; it is a miraculous event.

Added value in our schools is extremely important. Although some of the schools in my constituency are not well placed in the league tables, their catchment areas pretty well determine where they will finish up. No matter how much we try to understand how the system operates, expectations and parents' involvement are important. Poverty is not just a question of money. In the most deprived areas, parents have no expectations for their children and they do not push them. Failure to tackle that problem is the biggest mistake that we have ever made, because those children are now detached from society.

Three years ago, Oakhill school in my constituency was the 16th worst school in the country, but I am pleased to say that, since then, it has improved its results by 400 per cent. The students are now well motivated and a community education department is now attached to the school. Parents go to the school and, in some cases, they manage to keep just ahead of their children. However, they are able to take their children through education. The parents are involved and want their children to have a better life than they did. That achievement alone would justify four years of Labour government.

Lifelong learning has been a major theme in the debate. I am an advocate of lifelong learning, and I have played an active part in it in so far as my educational career has been rather chequered to say the least. After I left school, I carried on my post-15 education at evening classes. Because my company could find nothing other than a day-release course in Birmingham, I spent seven years doing one. I spent 12 hours a day—from 9 am to 9 pm—studying mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, electronics and instrumentation and control systems. I followed that with a further four years of courses to become a graduate of the Institute of Management.

The mechanics institutes were fine examples in that many people received their FE education through evening classes while being supported by their companies. I was supported by my company but, if I had failed, it would not have paid my fees. As an incentive, I had to pass the course.

I was lucky enough to take a degree at the London School of Economics, and then tried to return to industry. Unfortunately, I chose to do that in 1981. When I wrote to companies for a job, I received letters saying, "Sorry.

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We're shutting down and laying thousands off." I thought that I was causing the recession. I had not realised that someone had left open the door for another Government and that the then Government had a policy for streamlining Britain and its manufacturing base. That created extreme difficulties.

As a well-educated and well-qualified person, I looked around for opportunities and decided that the best thing would be to go into education. Therefore, I took a postgraduate course and went into further education, where I taught for 14 years. I joined a team of people that was so dedicated, hard working and underpaid that it was unbelievable. The qualifications and dedication of staff in our schools and colleges, and the remuneration that they receive, is not equalled anywhere else in western Europe. Every other society gives teachers much higher recognition and pays them accordingly. We ride on their backs and get their services much too cheap. People will never stay in education until we pay them properly.

However, those who stay in education are dedicated to the job. We have had a buoyant economy in the past few years and teachers, who are well qualified and have good skills, have been able to get jobs elsewhere. The ones who have walked have probably been right to do so because it was not the right job for them. In the recession, people were employed as teachers, especially in colleges, because they could not get a job anywhere else, and they were not necessarily the people we wanted.

We should be thankful for our teachers and the staff who work in schools because it is an awful job. We should not try to get them to sort out society's problems. If parents cannot get children to behave outside school, we will never get them to behave in it. Their behaviour starts with the parents and in the home. Schools can only work with what they are given. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will have noted my few words.

9.26 pm

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): We have heard a great deal about the extraordinary chaos and cock-ups surrounding individual learning accounts, not least the point so eloquently made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson). To be fair to the Government, we have also heard much about the progress that they have made, not least with the literacy and numeracy hours, which have made a welcome contribution to learning in my constituency's primary schools. However, for anyone who is sincerely interested in the education system, the reality is that something is deeply wrong at the heart of British education.

Figures on teacher losses are beginning to read like a first world war casualty list—not my words, but those of Friday's leading article in The Times Educational Supplement. It rightly explained that teacher recruitment levels may have finally crawled back up to those enjoyed under the last Conservative Administration, but wastage before recruitment has increased by almost 40 per cent. since Labour came to power in 1997—a staggering figure. Furthermore, one in eight teachers who begin training does not complete it; three in every 10 who

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do complete it do not join the teaching profession; and half of those recruited leave the profession within three years.

One of the most moving encounters that I had during this year's general election campaign was with a young primary school teacher in Battle who worked in the local school. He was hugely appreciated by his local community and dedicated to his pupils, but simply unable to carry on in his chosen vocation because of the intolerable bureaucratic labours that were placed on him. Something is going dreadfully wrong if young teachers such as him are being driven out of the profession.

The reality is that the Government's fine rhetoric masks a distinctly patchy record of achievement and an increasingly disturbing trend in the direction of policy. Centralisation, bureaucratic overload, directive after directive and narrow political targets are all conspiring to drive dedicated and capable teachers out of the profession. The fury of activity at the centre is doing nothing to address the problems of overcrowding, poor discipline, low morale and a crisis in retention and recruitment.

All too often, the Government treat our teachers—who are, after all, Britain's most educated mass work force—as though they do not have the common sense with which they were born, let alone a university degree and, invariably, postgraduate qualifications to boot. Every teacher whom I have met shares the zeal of the Secretary of State, but we need to empower teachers, not constantly to second-guess them in the classroom. It is right to challenge the education sector to do better, but we cannot expect the impossible. A state of perpetual change and interference in the classroom is rapidly producing diminishing returns.

It is not enough to tinker with existing pay scales and financial incentives to lure teachers into the profession or to entice them to stay. If the Government do not start to trust teachers more and bombard them with directives less, things can only get worse.

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