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Dr. John Pugh (Southport): With reference to religious education, the Ofsted report states:

What conclusion does the Minister draw from that, and what does she propose to do about it?

Estelle Morris: I draw the conclusion that teaching in RE is not as good as in other subjects. The measures for

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recruitment, retention and training need to be assiduously followed. To make sure that we get the message right, I pay tribute to those RE teachers who do teach to a high standard. There is a danger sometimes that our conversations in the House go outside and are misinterpreted, in this case as damning all RE teachers. Clearly, the matter has been raised as requiring further improvement. Religious education is an important part of the national curriculum and is entitled to be taught as effectively as any other. If deficiencies have been identified, they ought to be addressed.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): I welcome my right hon. Friend's justified praise of teachers and school management. I note from the report that, although significant improvement has been made in the teaching of information and communications technology, further improvement is necessary. Does my right hon. Friend therefore welcome the development in secondary schools of NVQs and GNVQs in ICT, which recognise that ICT is a key skill, alongside numeracy and literacy? It is a subject that appeals right across the ability range. What role do specialist technology schools such as Clough Hall in Kidsgrove have in trying to improve ICT teaching, not just in their local area but right across the LEA?

Now that they have a wider role under this Government than under the Tory Government, such development could be of key importance in improving the level of ICT teaching and leadership.

Estelle Morris: I agree. Many adults have not yet caught up with children in terms of ICT competence and confidence, and that is true for teachers as well as other adults. In our first term, we ensured that a great deal of resources—more than £1.8 billion over six years—was spent on ICT infrastructure and on training, but there is still a long way to go. I am pleased that progress has been made this year. As teachers learn, more developments occur, so we are constantly chasing the latest developments in ICT. She identifies exactly what needs to be done. Schools such as Clough Hall, which I know about from discussions with her, have a key role in ensuring that they share their teachers either through ICT links—including well-equipped specialist technology courses—or face-to-face training.

My hon. Friend spoke about spreading good practice across the LEA. Those involved should be more ambitious about that and listen for the opportunities that we offer in respect of being national leaders and creating links with other countries. If we want to be world class in education systems, we must look beyond our boundaries. She will know that there is a list of partner schools with which those who are involved must work in her constituency, and beyond. When they come to reapply for specialist school status, they will be judged just as critically on how well they have carried out their community links as on how much they have raised standards in their school. I hope that that message will go back and encourage them to work hard on both counts.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. In doing so, I should like to declare an interest as a governor of Morley Newlands primary school in my constituency, which is this week celebrating an excellent Ofsted report. As a governor, I think that we should recognise—this has been

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an occasion of praise and recognition—the work of school governors in helping us to achieve high standards. They give their time freely and have had to learn many more special skills in the past few years. The complexity that they now face is considerable. Will she not only join me in praising school governors for their work, but suggest ways in which we might recruit more governors? In certain areas, there are problems with recruitment of good-quality governors.

Estelle Morris: I am delighted that Morley Newlands school has been listed in the report and I congratulate it. Again, I thank governors for their work, as I did at the start of my statement. They ask for little reward or recognition and certainly no pay, and give generously of their time, energy and enthusiasm. A good school is the result of the partnership of everybody concerned, including the governing body. Like my hon. Friend, I worry that the schools that need the most effective governors sometimes find it most difficult to recruit. That is why, some three to four years ago, we financed the one-stop shop for recruiting, training and encouraging governors, so that governors could be recruited and placed in the schools that need them most. If things are tough and there are a lot of other pressures, head teachers will have neither the time nor the energy to go out and recruit governors, and yet they need them for support. The one-stop shop has been successful and we will continue to offer the support that it needs. None the less, I say to all hon. Members that they can also play a role. When they meet business people or others, including concerned citizens who want to play a part in education, they should direct them to schools in their constituencies where good governors are needed. I know that that will be welcomed.

Clive Efford (Eltham): My right hon. Friend is aware that my education authority is carrying out restructuring throughout the service, which has placed a burden on some aspects of education in Greenwich. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the schools in our LEA without exception for the hard work that they are doing to bring about the improvements in education that we all want to see.

I also welcome today's statement and the inspector's report. We can only reflect on how much more we might have achieved in our early years in government if we had got rid of Mr. Woodhead sooner.

A friend who has worked for many years in a secondary school as a maths teacher told me that the numeracy hour means that, for the first time in his experience, young people in their first year at secondary school have a grounding in maths that allows him to start to extend them from the day that they arrive. That is testament to the Government's changes in education.

I want to make a plea about recruitment and retention in London. The cost of living, especially housing costs, is high in the capital city. Those costs bite in many schools. We solved the problem in the police service by dealing

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with the housing allocation two years ago. Training colleges in London are now full of police recruits. That is the only solution to the problem in London.

Estelle Morris: I am pleased by my hon. Friend's comments about maths. Many secondary school teachers have had to rewrite the maths curriculum to build on what has happened in primary schools. It is therefore important that the key stage 3 strategy for 11 to 14-year-olds takes into account children's improved mathematical and literary ability.

I accept my hon. Friend's point about housing costs, which are a major cause of difficulty in recruiting in London. There appears to be a pattern: young teachers work in London for a year or two but move elsewhere when they want to buy their homes or have families. In his previous post, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister launched the £250 million starter home initiative from which education was a major beneficiary. However, I am not complacent, and I know that there is a challenge not only for my Department but throughout Government.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I thank my right hon. Friend for the statement and the report, especially those aspects that deal with ethnic minority children, of whom there are many in my constituency.

We have dealt a little with truancy. Will my right hon. Friend comment on parent-organised truancy, which has a devastating effect on children in my constituency? I fear that it may also have a long-term effect.

I want to comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) about recruiting teachers from ethnic minorities and the good role models that they would make in some of our ethnic minority schools. An increasing number of young women in Keighley and Bradford are doing well and training to be teachers, but teaching in an Asian school is the last thing they want to do. We must examine that matter because they would make excellent role models.

Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend has spoken privately and on the Floor of the House about that matter, which causes her great anxiety because she knows that the best hope for her constituents' children is a decent education. I do not mean to be insensitive or critical, but it is not helpful when children are removed from school for a long time. They need to be in school to learn. When they come back to school, it is difficult for them to catch up. As a former teacher, I know that it is almost impossible to teach a class and the children who return to school after absences of six to eight weeks or even longer. There must be a clear message about that. Many members of the Asian community join us in conveying the message to give the kids a chance and not to take them out of school unless they are ill.

Mike Tomlinson said today that 80 per cent. of student absence is condoned by parents. That is not fair to the children. No matter how much we or teachers do, unless parents are true and active partners who get their children to school ready to learn, they will be left out. I suspect that the cycle will be repeated when they become adults and have children. We shall do whatever we can, but there is no easy solution. We must go on and on and convey that message.

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