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Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does not the Foreign Secretary think that it was strange and indeed discourteous to the House that at no time during last Thursday's debate in Westminster Hall did the Minister

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for Europe ever mention the fact that further talks would be taking place yesterday? Does not that illustrate why the House is so suspicious of what the Government are doing?

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. He owes an expression of regret to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, because we made that announcement.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Is it not the case, in respect of the events of the past few years, that trying to negotiate an agreed constitutional settlement that is acceptable to the people of Gibraltar is simply hopeless without the prerequisite of confidence-building measures on the part of the Spanish Government? Such measures need to be in place over a period. The suggestion that there are no diplomatic levers that the UK Government can use with Spain short of sending a gunboat into Cadiz is frankly ridiculous.

Mr. Straw: I do not think that that view is shared by Liberal Democrat Front Benchers or by many other people. Between 1987, when the airport agreement failed, and the resumption of negotiations under the Brussels process last year, this Government and previous Governments have sought—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Foreign Secretary answer the question.

Mr. Straw: In that period, various diplomatic negotiating devices were tried by Conservative and Labour Administrations. None of them worked, so the proof is there that the Brussels process provides us with the best possible means of solving this matter.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Is it not supremely unedifying for our Foreign Secretary to presume to know better than the people and elected Government of Gibraltar what is in their best interests? If he wants to put the issue of sovereignty to rest, should not he quite simply refuse ever to discuss it with Spain? Will he bear it in mind that the last time we tried a joint sovereignty solution—in the Falkland Islands—it merely increased the appetite of those who had malign intentions towards British territory and citizens?

Mr. Straw: I dealt with that point at some length, so I refer the hon. Gentleman to earlier answers.

I should like to point out to the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) that, in Westminster Hall on 31 January, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe specifically announced that

The right hon. Gentleman owes my right hon. Friend an apology.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Foreign Secretary explain to the House the difference between our relationship with Gibraltar and that of Spain with Ceuta and Manila? Why are there not two separate sets of

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negotiations in which Spain can change its relationship with Ceuta and Melilla while his Government are seeking to change our relationship with Gibraltar? Furthermore, he said that Gibraltar was in the dock in the European Court of Justice for not applying directives. Of course, it had no political representation concerning those directives. Neither Gibraltar nor its people were represented in any discussions whatever, as they have no directly elected Members of the European Parliament. Will he therefore take this opportunity to confirm the words of the Minister for Europe and tell us that Gibraltarians will not only be guaranteed British citizenship, but have the right to elect their very own Members of the European Parliament?

Mr. Straw: We have already accepted that judgment and work is in hand. Gibraltar would have to be part of another constituency. Let me explain to the House that we have got this problem because of an unsatisfactory outcome to the negotiations in 1713 following a slightly inconclusive result in the war of Spanish succession. That is the truth: in 1713, insufficient attention was given to the prospects 300 years later for negotiations with Spain. That is why we are in a unique legal position in respect of the sovereignty of Gibraltar. Had the treaty of Utrecht resulted in the United Kingdom gaining Gibraltar without any first refusal for Spain, we would not be in our current difficulties. However, the legal base of our title to the Rock is different, and so the problems exist.

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): The Foreign Secretary claims that there is no serious alternative to his proposal. Why has not he considered the obvious alternative of giving the people of Gibraltar the same rights as the people of the overseas territories of France and Spain, and allowing them the option of full integration into the United Kingdom?

Mr. Straw: That proposal has not been put before us, but if it happened, all Gibraltar's economic and tax advantages would go.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I declare my interest as an active member of the all-party group on Gibraltar. The Foreign Secretary has said repeatedly that he wants constructive suggestions about the way forward. Would not he be wiser to recognise that his job as British Foreign Secretary is to represent the British people of Gibraltar in their complaints about Spain's bad behaviour? Since he refuses to do that, will he acknowledge that he has caused additional offence, as one of my Gibraltarian friends with family in my constituency said, by appointing as the Minister responsible someone who is less British than the people of Gibraltar?

Mr. Straw: That shows a certain poverty of argument. Of course I try to represent the interests of the people of Gibraltar in the negotiations; I am the only person at the head of a delegation on our side. I should much prefer Peter Caruana, the elected representative of the people of Gibraltar, to sit alongside me so that there could be two flags and three voices. I look forward to the realisation of that hope.

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Ofsted Annual Report

4.22 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): I am delighted, Mr. Speaker, to lay the 2000-01 report from Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools before Parliament. Let me begin by thanking and paying tribute to Mike Tomlinson, whose last annual report we are considering. He has made a huge contribution to education as a teacher and inspector, and I know that he will continue to do that after he steps down from his current post in April. I also thank the inspectors and those who work for Ofsted for their professionalism and dedication.

Ofsted has shown the value of an independent inspectorate, identifying the strengths and weaknesses in our education system and telling it as it is. I congratulate the schools that appear on this year's list of outstanding schools and all those who work with them. We also congratulate and thank the more than 200 schools that have been removed from special measures this year.

Today's report shows that the quality of education is getting better. Our education system was recently acknowledged as a star performer by the programme for international student assessment study. We can be sure at last that we have a good and improving education system. We know that further improvements are needed; big challenges are ahead that need to be addressed.

Quality of teaching and school leadership is key to raising standards. The report describes teaching in the past year as the best ever. The proportion of lessons found to be unsatisfactory is the lowest ever recorded and the proportion of teaching found to be good or better has never been higher.

Schools are reported as being increasingly well led and managed. That is a tremendous achievement and I thank and applaud teachers, heads and all those who work in our schools for their hard work.

The chief inspector's report acknowledges the enormous gains that have been made in recent years through reforms to primary education. Between 1997 and 2000, the proportion of children attaining level 4 by the end of key stage 2 increased by more than 10 per cent. for both literacy and numeracy. This year saw continuing improvements in science, but results for literacy and numeracy levelled off. Although that was disappointing, the chief inspector acknowledged that

and that

As levels of achievement rise, it is inevitably more difficult to maintain the rates of improvement that we have seen to date. As we move towards our goals, the challenge will be greater, but we are determined to meet it.

At secondary level, too, management and leadership continue to improve, with the proportion of schools in which Ofsted judge these to be unsatisfactory now down to just one in 20. Achievement has also risen, with the Government's target of 50 per cent. of our children attaining five A to C grades at GCSE achieved one year ahead of schedule.

The chief inspector reports that in most special schools, pupils are achieving well, and that that improvement has been particularly marked in schools for children with

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emotional and behavioural difficulties. In the mainstream, too, the achievements of pupils with special educational needs are showing welcome improvement. As a result of the further improvements in teaching and leadership, the number of schools in special measures has fallen again, and those that do fall into special measures are recovering more quickly. This year, 137 schools were placed in special measures, compared to 230 the previous year, and 194 schools have improved sufficiently to remove them from special measures altogether.

The report contains some encouraging findings, but we should not be complacent about the scale of the challenge still ahead of us. We have much more to do, as is also set out in the report. The chief inspector comments on

He says that

Ofsted goes on to report that, while the gap between the highest and lowest performing schools is narrowing at primary level, it has widened at secondary level. Closing this achievement gap is one of the main aims of the Government's policies and we are determined to make even further progress. As the report notes, our literacy and numeracy strategies have closed the gap in primary schools, and we will further address the secondary school gap as part of our secondary schools reform.

While standards of achievement are rising for the majority of our pupils, Ofsted believes that some children continue to be failed by the system. It has been a national disgrace that children in care leave school with so few academic qualifications. Our children in care programme shows that there are early signs of improvement, but being able to say that the latest figures show that only 37 per cent. of young people leaving care in 2000–01 obtained one or more GCSEs or GNVQs—up from 30 per cent. the previous year—reveals just how far we have to go with that group of people.

The performance of certain ethnic groups is still one of significant under-achievement, but although there is still some way to go, improvements have been made. The youth cohort study published in January 2001 reveals a significant improvement in the achievement of many ethnic groups at GCSE level. Although there is as yet no similar national data source for the primary sector, the latest key stage 2 test results show that inner-city local education authorities with high ethnic minority populations are among the most improved in the country. This year we are introducing new national data collection arrangements, which will help the performance of ethnic minority pupils to be monitored locally and nationally. That will help us to ensure that resources are better targeted at need.

I am pleased that HMCI draws attention to the value of the excellence in cities programme for pupils in our urban areas. It is already making an impact because standards in schools benefiting from the programme are rising faster than elsewhere. The latest key stage 3 English tests showed an improvement in inner-city schools four times the improvement elsewhere. I am progressively extending the programme to more schools in clusters of deprivation beyond the inner cities. Twelve new excellence clusters are now operating, and I intend 12 more to start in September. They will be in Barnet, Bishop Auckland,

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Crewe, Derby, High Wycombe, Hillingdon, Lancaster, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Peterborough, Stockport and Wigan.

The fundamental challenge, of course, is to improve the quality of education for all our children. That is what we have set out to do through our White Paper, which is an agenda that aims for nothing short of the transformation of secondary education. That programme is given added weight by the report we have received today.

At the core of secondary transformation is the key stage 3 strategy. Too much time and previous gain is lost in the transition from primary to secondary school and we know that dissatisfaction with schooling can take hold at that stage. We need to turn that around and use those early years of secondary education to build on achievements at primary level and to provide a solid platform for attainment in the 14-to-19 phase.

We are investing £489 million in our key stage 3 strategy between now and 2003–04 and early feedback from Ofsted and schools is very encouraging. From September this school year, the strategy began to impact on 1.8 million of our children, building on the best of the literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools, to achieve a similar step change in performance at secondary level.

Schools will also have to be structured more to meet the needs of the individual pupil. We have made progress with individual pupil targeting, learning mentors for individual students and encouraging secondary schools to have a distinctive mission and ethos and to accept their responsibility to other schools and the wider education community. That is where beacon and specialist schools have an important role to play. We want all schools to develop a sense of mission and, in doing so, to develop centres of excellence and networks that lead to innovation and higher standards for all children.

Yesterday, I announced the biggest ever expansion of the specialist schools programme. By September 2002, we shall have 1,000, each teaching a full and balanced curriculum, using their additional specialism as a catalyst for whole-school improvement and increasingly sharing that expertise with other schools.

The best ideas on school improvement are so often developed in the schools themselves. We want our best schools to be the innovators of educational reform. That is why we are giving them greater autonomy and supporting innovation so that it has an impact on the whole system, but none of that can happen without teachers.

The report acknowledges, as we do, that teacher recruitment and retention continue to pose a challenge, but the chief inspector acknowledges that the measures that we have introduced are beginning to bear fruit. Apart from rapidly increasing numbers of people starting training and joining the profession, the alternative routes are expanding fast too.

Retention is mentioned by the chief inspector as a particular concern. A great deal has been asked of teachers and we need to make sure that they are supported to do their jobs. I know that work load is a key issue. I see giving teachers the time that they need to teach as critical to raising standards of achievement. At the end of April, the School Teachers Pay Review Body will make recommendations on work load.

Behaviour in schools is reported by Ofsted to be generally good, but the poor behaviour of a minority of pupils is reported as a significant factor in teachers'

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decisions to leave the profession. To help teachers to tackle disruption effectively, we have expanded our programme of on-site learning support units and learning mentors. About 3,000 learning mentors have been recruited and 323 pupil referral units are providing more places with better quality teaching. Our Connexions service will also offer advice to young people throughout the country when it is rolled out nationally later this year.

As The Times Educational Supplement survey reported last Friday, teaching is a profession on the up. It found that the typical teacher enjoys an improved standard of living and enjoys the job and that seven out of 10 teachers are satisfied with their jobs.

The Ofsted report is an important document. Its value is in its independence. It demonstrates the real gains that have been made and continue to be made in our schools. It also signposts for us continuing challenges, which we intend to address in raising standards further still.

The report states that one reason that teachers leave the profession is lack of esteem. They have no reason to think that their profession is anything other than one of the most important in this land. I hope that Members of the House will join me in paying tribute to teachers for what they have achieved for our children. We have it on Ofsted's authority that the quality of their work has never been better.

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