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The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Margaret Hodge): Since September 1998, all four-year-olds have had access to a free part-time nursery education place. About 62 per cent. of three-year-olds already have access to a free part-time nursery place. I expect that level to rise to 66 per cent. by March 2002, with universal provision by September 2004.
Jim Knight: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. What is her assessment of the number of three-year-olds in Dorset who are offered nursery places? Given the difficulties in recruiting staff for nursery schools in the rural part of my constituency, which are due to transport and remuneration problems, will she encourage and work with Dorset local education authority to ensure that rural needs are addressed, possibly through a multi- agency approach such as that proposed by the By The Seaside charity, which is based in Swanage?
Margaret Hodge: First, I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that 64 per cent. of three-year-olds in Dorset have access to a nursery education placea level that is above the national average. Secondly, I recognise the particular difficulties that are faced in ensuring access to places for children in rural areas. We are doing a number of things about that, including undertaking a very strong recruitment campaign, which is successful. It might well be that we can provide a high-quality experience to young children through child minders, working together in networks. Of course, we will work with all voluntary organisations in all areas to ensure that all our children get access to good, high-quality nursery education.
Mr. Smith: I, too, warmly welcome my hon. Friend's initial reply on universal nursery places, although I wonder whether I should declare an interest as the very proud grandfather of two-year-old Ryan Tomos. I have a picture in my wallet that I could show to her later. Will she inform me of the total increase in all education expenditure since 1997?
Margaret Hodge: As the very proud grandma of a three-year-old, of whom I have plenty of pictures in my wallet and who has just started in her new nursery class, which I had the privilege of visiting a couple of weeks ago, I share with my hon. Friend the joy of being a grandparentit is all love and no blame.
I am extremely proud of our record of increasing spending on nursery education. We have doubled the amount that we are putting in: it is going up from £1 billion to £2 billion. I think that that is one of the most crucial bits of investment that we have undertaken since
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): Is the Minister aware that half the pupils in the intake of a secondary school in a relatively affluent area of my constituency have a reading age of less than their chronological age, and that 30 per cent. of them have a reading age of two years less than their chronological age? What does she see as the root causes of that problem?
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): While many parents will welcome what the Minister has said about the availability of nursery places at primary schools for many children, does she agree that many parents prefer a less formal style of education for three and four-year-olds, which can be provided, for example, by pre-school and nursery groups and by child minders? Is not she concerned that there has been a significant fall in the number of pre-school playgroup places that are available? Some 300 closures have occurred throughout the country and 12 in Wiltshire alone. What is she doing to ensure that no undue influence is placed on parents to encourage the inclusion of children in three and four-year-old primary school intakes, thereby putting the pre-school playgroups at risk?
Margaret Hodge: I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that what matters is providing parents with appropriate choicesa child minder, playgroup, or a place in a primary or nursery schoolso that they can decide what they want. Our policies are based on that. If more parents choose nursery classes in primary schools or classes in nursery schools, that is up to them. We need to ensure that places and funding are available in the private, voluntary and state sector: we are doing precisely that.
Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): Last year, there were approximately 200 funded places for three-year-olds in the Medway towns. We now have 2,300 places, which is clearly due to the failure to invest that Conservative Members talk about. We want that failure to continue.
Those involved with pre-schools mention the crucial need for training. Will Ofsted, which is now in charge of inspection, link up with local authorities to ensure the provision of a good local training programme that is easily accessible and, most important, affordable?
Margaret Hodge: The quality of the child's experience, wherever he or she is placedin a playgroup, with a child minder or in a nursery classdepends entirely on the quality of the person who cares for and teaches the child. Investment in training is crucial. We have therefore asked the Learning and Skills Council to put a lot of money aside to ensure proper investment in and training for people who work with young children.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): I am happy to articulate the feeling of the House that we would never have guessed that the Minister could be a grandmother. [Interruption.] That was meant as a compliment. However, one never ceases to be amazed at what a Minister can do with statistics.
Parents in the real world know that thousands of nurseries have closed in the past four years. Ministers like to provide statistics about increasing places on, for example, holiday schemes, but they are not equivalent to a nursery place. Anyone who runs a nursery in the real world knows that the increasing burdens of regulation are such that thousands more nurseries are now under threat. Ministers are fond of targets, and we hear statistic after statistic about them. They display absolute complacency. However, parents know that results, not targets, matter. What will the Minister do to stop the increasing closure of nurseries and loss of nursery places?
My hon. friend complains about regulation, but I hope that she supports our attempt to improve the quality of provision for the early-years phase. The only way to achieve that is through inspection, review and investment in training, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) said. If that is regulation, it is good.
The hon. Lady, not the Government, talks about statistics. If one talks to parents in every constituency, one hears that more places are available. They may be in schools, nursery classes, playgroups or with child minders, but children have access to more places. She needs to get out of this place a little more and spend time in the community.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): The new free places that have been created in nurseries in Lancashire are welcome, but is my hon. Friend aware that difficulties have been created because some people have the allocation and some do not? When can we get over that difficulty by extending the scheme so that they all get places? It ought not to take about three months before we realise that of, say, five places allocated only three have been taken up. In that case, two places have been lost for three months that could have been given to others. The scheme is welcome, but we must ensure that it works more efficiently.
Margaret Hodge: I completely agree with my hon. Friend that, in a period of expansion, there will always be difficulties until there is a place for everyone: some people will get a place and others will not. I recognise the problem that he described but, by 2004, there will be a free nursery place for every three and four-year-oldsomething on which I have campaigned for 30 years. It is about time that it became a reality in everyone's lives.
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): In each of the past five years for which data are available, approximately 80 per cent. of teachers were still in service in the fourth year after entering teaching.
Estelle Morris: I congratulate the head whom the hon. Gentleman quoted and other heads on the GCSE results, which were published today. They have ensured that 50 per cent. of our 16-year-olds attain five good A* to C passes. That is a great achievement and I pay tribute to all those who have worked hard to achieve it. If leaving people alone means allowing some schools to teach in a way that is not based on good practice and evidence, I will not do so. We would not have introduced the literacy hour, the numeracy hour or the key stage 3 strategy for our younger secondary school children if we had done so. It is our responsibility to raise standards for every child. If the hon. Gentleman means leaving alone those schools that are good, that are proving it and that are improving even more, I will leave them alone. That is the thrust of the White Paper and the Bill that will be published later this week.
Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): At a recent meeting with secondary school heads in my constituency, I heard positive reports about the graduate teacher programme and the difference that it was making. What plans has my right hon. Friend to continue that programme and to expand it, as it is welcome on the ground and it is clearly effective?
Estelle Morris: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. The scheme is hugely popular. Its attraction is that it often brings in mature teachers with skills from industry and other walks of life. They train in school and receive a salary for doing so, and the school is paid as well. I think that the cost is £17,000, which, as hon. Members will know, is more than we normally pay for students to do initial teacher training. We have created more than 2,000 such places and I am conscious of the fact that it is an excellent way to train to be a teacher. We
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): Much mention has been made of the NUT report on teachers leaving. Does the Secretary of State not feel alarmed that that report makes it clear that significantly more secondary teachers say that the sheer weight of Government initiatives is a more important factor even than pay in driving them out of the profession? Is not it clear that her Department is not part of the solution to teacher shortagesit is a significant part of the problem?
Estelle Morris: If that is the case, how does the hon. Gentleman answer the point that this year there has been an 8 per cent. increase in the number of people going into teacher training? The House must remember that more young graduates choose teaching than any other profession, which is a tribute to the attraction that education and teaching hold. I know that teachers feel under pressure and that we have asked more of them than any previous Government, but they have raised standards in a way that has not happened for decades. I pay tribute to them for that. I also know that we need to do more to support them, but that is why there are 44,000 more teaching assistants, more bursars and more investment in information technology.
I say to the hon. Gentleman and to teachers that we will not take from them the literacy strategy, the numeracy hour, the strategy for our younger secondary school pupils and target setting, which are at the core of raising standards. We must not take away what works, but ensure that we offer all our teachers the support they need to do the job. We have made a start, but there is much further to go.
Mr. Green: The right hon. Lady mentions trainee teachers. She knows that 60 per cent. leave the profession within three years of becoming trainees, so I am afraid that teachers will not be convinced, especially when they read the views of Lord Puttnam. The Government have put him in charge of the General Teaching Council, but he gave a newspaper interview in which he said, "All we need is fewer teachers." Will she confirm that fewer teachers is not just the side-effect of Government policy, but the target? Does she understand why teachers are so demoralised under her Government?
Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman did not listen at the last Question Time and he is not listening again. My hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has already made it clear that the NUT figures are not accurate. In answer to the question[Interruption.] Do not thrust NUT research at me expecting it to be taken as gospel. The hon. Gentleman will have to learn that lesson pretty quickly. After three years in teaching, 80 per cent. are still in the profession.
Let us be clear about the NUT survey figures: they show how many leave, not how many leave and then return. Let me give an example. If someone moved to another part of the country with a partner for a job, left teaching for three months and then found a new post at the start of term, that person would be included in the NUT research as having left teaching in the first five years.
The truth is that 80 per cent. of people who go through initial teacher training join the maintained sector within five years of qualifying and 90 per cent. do some teaching in the maintained sector, the independent sector, further education or higher education. I am not complacent and I know that there is a genuine debate about improving retention, but the hon. Gentleman cooking the figures or selectively quoting research that was not accurate in the first place does not help one iota.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Does the Secretary of State accept that a number of teachers have left the William Crane comprehensive school in my constituency? It appears near the bottom of the league tables. Does she also accept that most of those teachers have stayed the course and that it is difficult for teachers on tough estates with poor catchment areas to raise standards? To raise standards by even 1 or 2 per cent. is a near-miraculous achievement. Will she take the chance to praise those teachers who are not in the leafy suburbs, but who work very hard with pupils and parents to raise the standard in some of our toughest schools?
Estelle Morris: All of us who have been teachers know that some of the toughest jobs are on the toughest estates with children who do not come from backgrounds and neighbourhoods with high aspirations. That is why I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that today, as well as publishing the raw data for GCSE, we have published for the first time value-added data on tests for 14-year-olds. In 2003, we shall be able to publish the raw scores and the value-added data on 16-year-olds.
That school needs extra support to make standards even higher, and I know that my hon. Friend shares my view. We have turned our back on the days when people thought that children at schools in such areas almost inevitably leave with lower qualifications. They do not; they are as bright as kids anywhere else. It is our responsibility to ensure that we provide the support to go with the skill and commitment of the teachers my hon. Friend describes. We have done that for four years and we will never stop.