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Information and Communications Technology

3. Tony Cunningham (Workington): What progress is being made to equip schools with resources in ICT. [23833]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The Government are investing more than £1.8 billion in information and communications technology in schools. Some 97 per cent. of schools are now connected to the internet and there is a computer for every seven secondary school pupils and every 12 pupils in our primary schools. Before Christmas, the Prime Minister launched curriculum online and only yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced £100 million to help equip teachers with laptops.

Tony Cunningham: I thank the Minister for his answer. I have certainly noticed the huge difference that extra information technology resources have made in many schools in my constituency. However, as we all know, computers are only as good as the people who use them. What is being done to improve the training of teachers, which is of paramount importance? Are there plans to increase the number of IT assistants, who also do a tremendous job in our schools?

Mr. Lewis: I agree that it is essential that teachers have both the skill and the confidence to use the most up-to-date technology to ensure that pupils get access to the highest possible quality education. The Government have a proud record on training teachers in the use of the most up-to-date technology. Over the past three years, we have provided training for teachers through the new opportunities fund. Nearly 350,000 teachers in England have signed up for that training and more than 160,000 have completed it. A survey in October 2001 indicated that 73 per cent. of teachers feel confident in their use of the most up-to-date technology.

On trained technicians, the funding that the Government provide under the national grid for learning programmes can be used by schools specifically for technical support. In November last year, we launched a technical support website to provide advice and information to help schools develop appropriate approaches to managing and organising technical support.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): In recognising the value of the digital curriculum, does the Minister also recognise the great danger inherent in allowing the BBC free rein to use licence fee payers' money to provide the digital curriculum outside any education controls, checks and

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balances? Will he agree to meet the industry to discuss how the checks and balances can be brought to bear on the delivery of the digital curriculum?

Mr. Lewis: I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point that we have to get the issue right. However, there have been meetings with the industry, and I pay tribute not only to the BBC, but to the industry for their contribution in that respect. Before the BBC gets the go-ahead to produce its curriculum digital service, it will be required to submit its proposals to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport for formal consultation and approval. We are in constant dialogue with the industry and are delighted that both it and the BBC have entered into a partnership with the Government in this most imaginative and exciting way.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow): The Minister will know that South Tyneside has one of the highest unemployment levels in the country, so it is vital to equip kids with new technology skills. Is he aware that South Tyneside has identified a major shortfall in IT provision in the education development plan? Will he take special note of that case and investigate it so that the kids in South Tyneside do not lose out?

Mr. Lewis: I am more than willing to respond positively to my hon. Friend's request, and if he informs me of the details of any issue to be addressed in South Tyneside, I will look into it. There is no doubt that South Tyneside will have had its fair share of the significant resources that the Government have made available for the use of up-to-date technology, but I am willing to look at that issue.

Primary Schools

4. Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden): How the Government intend to improve primary schools to promote standards of education for 11 to 14-year- olds. [23834]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): As a result of the national literacy and numeracy strategies, more pupils are leaving primary school with the skills that they need to access and benefit from secondary education. Our key stage 3 national strategy aims to help those who are just below the expected level to catch up quickly with their peers. Secondary and primary schools, working together, can support those pupils with summer literacy and numeracy schools, bridging units and catch-up programmes.

Siobhain McDonagh: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Has she considered how parents can be involved in improving standards? Many of the children who need the most help have parents who themselves feel alienated from the education system, and who desperately want to assist their children but do not know how to do so. How can we get them involved?

Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Nothing can replace good teaching as a means of raising standards, but the combination of good teaching and support from home and family is a formula that can work with every child in the country. That is why it is right to

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address the needs of parents. I pay tribute to the imaginative work of so many of our schools in making links with parents, including those who are the most difficult to reach.

The Government's commitment to raising standards is evident from the fact that during the National Year of Reading, the National Year of Mathematics in 2000 and Science Year, which is this year, much of our effort is about making parents feel confident that they have a role to play. The message from us all, which is not political, is that those parents who did not succeed at school and who do not have qualifications or a degree can play a full part in their children's education. Every parent can play a role, and all the partners in education—not least the Government but mainly schools—have a responsibility to try to make it as easy as possible for them to play that role.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Does the Secretary of State think that it would help to improve primary schools and, for that matter, secondary schools if the Liberal Democrats' proposals to undermine the Catholic education system and, indeed, many Church of England schools, by preventing them from selecting on the basis of faith, were implemented? Does she agree that it would be better to leave good schools to get better and poor schools to become good than to mess about with their admission policies?

Estelle Morris: There's a question. In this job, a lot of research evidence lands on my desk, but I have never yet seen any relating strength in literacy and numeracy to religious belief. I suppose that it may emerge at some point. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) knows that my views on religious education differ from his, and I am more in agreement with the comments that have just been made.

The role of Churches in education goes back a long way, and if the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) had wanted to, he could have pointed out that hundreds of years ago, Churches were making sure that the poor could read and write when the state had not accepted its responsibility for doing so. I pay tribute not only to faith schools but to all schools for raising literacy and numeracy standards. Just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that people who attend a church have a better chance of being successful in reading and writing or of higher achievement at key stage 3.

Clive Efford (Eltham): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most significant contribution that we can make to improving performance in secondary schools is to improve performance in primary schools? May I draw her attention to Henwick primary school in my constituency where I have been a school governor for 16 years? The school struggled along for many years, starved of resources, but the education action zone has provided laptop computers for all the staff, which has made them more efficient, and targeted more resources at the school, allowing it to reduce class sizes at key stage 2. That means that it has the most improved performance of any primary school in the education authority area. Is

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not that testimony to the investment that we have made in primary schools? Should not we now move on to secondary schools and achieve the same?

Estelle Morris: I am happy to pay tribute to the school in my hon. Friend's constituency and, indeed, to his personal support for that education action zone. The good news is that the story is repeated in thousands of primary schools throughout the country. Every Member will have similar stories to tell about the achievement of primary schools. Secondary schools are having to rethink completely what they do with year 7 students because of the improvement in standards. That is the best problem that secondary schools could have to face—how to adjust teaching because the quality of children and their learning is better than it has ever been.

We are not there yet, and I do not wish to sound complacent. For every child who gets to year 7 without the basic skills needed to access the secondary school curriculum, an opportunity is lost. The statistics show that if someone has not conquered basic skills by 11, the chances of them doing so thereafter and getting five A* to C grades at 16 are not good, which is why we must continue with that work. I am delighted with the progress.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): The right hon. Lady said that she does not want to sound complacent, in which case I invite her to read Hansard tomorrow. Is not having enough teachers the first step towards improving standards both in primary schools and for 11 to 14-year-olds? In that context, has she read reports about the head teacher in Fareham who said that the situation is so bad that he devotes two days a week simply to recruitment and has set up a stall in his local Sainsburys in the hope of attracting an ex-teacher or two? Or has she heard about the head teacher of a school in Cambridgeshire who said:

The situation is desperate. Is the right hon. Lady not just a little ashamed to be presiding over it?

Estelle Morris: I gather that the hon. Gentleman thinks that there are so few teachers in Wandsworth that he had to go in and help out. We could have a long debate about how that has affected the quality of learning for children in that school, but I hope that he enjoyed his three-day sojourn and I welcome him back. Seventeen more years and he will catch up with my experience in the classroom, but never mind.

The fact that there are 12,000 more teachers than in 1998 is a tribute to the Government's investment in recruitment and retention. There is no getting away from that figure. There is an issue about teacher recruitment and retention; some of our secondary schools have serious problems, especially in the shortage areas of maths, design, science, English and modern foreign languages. Of course that is the case, but it is also true that there are more teachers than there have ever been before.

The hon. Gentleman should engage in a proper debate about the dilemma of staffing our schools and how we square the statistic that there are more teachers than there have been for more than a quarter of a century with the fact that there is a real shortage, as well as a perception of shortage. We are dealing with that and have already

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talked about remodelling the profession, taking burdens off teachers and seeing how we can better use people who do not have qualified teacher status. That is the debate, and those will be the solutions to the historic problem of staffing our schools effectively—not quoting the odd school here and there and offering anecdotal evidence.

Mr. Green: If the right hon. Lady wishes to discuss my enjoyable time in Southfields this week, I should point out that the children awarded me seven or eight out of 10 for my teaching skills in the lesson that I taught yesterday. I am not sure that teachers would award her such a high mark for her performance.

The right hon. Lady dismissed the head teachers' experience of teacher shortages, but perhaps she will listen to local education authorities instead. Kingston upon Thames surveyed teachers who had left the profession. The main reason for leaving was the work load, and the report said that a significant factor in that was

Does the right hon. Lady recognise that her Department is not providing a solution to teacher vacancies, but is a large part of the problem as it is causing them?

Estelle Morris: I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not teaching the children of Southfields maths; the fact is that there are 12,000 more teachers than in 1998. As long as he refuses to accept that—[Interruption.] There are 12,000 more teachers, which means that, no matter how many have left, more have joined the profession; that is what 12,000 more means. There are more teachers now than there were three years ago; the hon. Gentleman must accept that. He wants me to repeat what I have said when he offers anecdotal evidence. Yes, there are problems; some head teachers have to spend far too much time looking for teachers and there are far too many supply teachers in our schools. I repeat what I have said on previous occasions: I would rather that head teachers spent that time raising standards.

The real issue is that because of the action that this Government have taken, there are more teachers than ever before. There is a real increase this year in the number of teachers going into teacher training and more teachers are training to be maths teachers. There are more teachers today teaching our children in our schools than in 1998. That is the reality, but there is still a problem. The solution to that problem is not about sending teachers fewer pieces of paper, but about how we can enable them to do the things that they know are good that have emanated from the Government, which are about target setting and pupil-level support, while getting other staff in with a different range of skills to support them in doing that. I say to the House and to head teachers that sending teachers less paper will neither raise standards nor satisfy them of our ability to give them the support that they need to do the job.

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