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Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington): The hon. Gentleman talks about five years on. In 1997, there were 1,100 infant children in Warwickshire in classes of over 30. Today there are none. Is that a myth?

Mr. Green: We are talking about standards—[Interruption.] The Government may not find standards important, but many of us do.

The Department's problems stem from four distinct causes: broken promises, weakness, policy failures and sheer Government incompetence. Let me deal with these in reverse order. It is plain incompetence on the part of the Government to say that they want to relieve teachers of unnecessary red tape and then continue tying teachers up in it.

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) talks about facts and figures. Let us look at the facts, as revealed in a series of written answers to me from the Minister for School Standards. I asked for monthly totals of the paperwork sent to schools by the Department. Last April, documents 853 pages long were sent to every primary school in the country. Let us assume that a conscientious head teacher takes two minutes to read each page. That means that those documents would take over 28 hours just to read. That is three and a half normal working days for each head teacher, even before any action is taken on the basis of the documents.

April may have been the cruellest month for head teachers, but others were nearly as bad. Last December, secondary schools received 510 pages of wisdom from the Department: probably not the most helpful early Christmas present any school received. Even in September—which most people involved in education, although not, apparently, the Department, recognise is rather a busy time, at the start of the school year—primary school heads had to cope with 402 pages and secondary heads 388 pages; over one and a half working days per head teacher to read these alone.

The full magnitude of the Government's imposition on schools is revealed by a simple addition exercise. If we add all the documents sent between April last year and February this year—the last date for which the Government will give me answers—we find that there were 4,333 pages for head teachers to plough through. If every head teacher in Britain fulfilled their duty to read all this stuff, that would create 859 years' worth of work; nearly 900 years' worth of bureaucracy in just 11 months.

That is the true monument to the education policy of new Labour: heads prevented from managing; teachers prevented from teaching; and standards prevented from rising, all because the gentlemen and ladies in Whitehall still think that they know best. When will they learn to get off the backs of teachers and let them get on with their proper job?

I would like to use this debate to give the Secretary of State the chance to recant something that she told the House on 10 January this year. She said:

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Can she really believe that? If she does, she should get out more. I hope that she will withdraw that absurd view today.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): The hon. Gentleman is giving a chapter of woe in the education service. Would his case not be stronger in some respects if he acknowledged that since the Conservative Government left office in 1997, the number of children achieving the appropriate standard in numeracy has gone up from 50 per cent. to approximately 80 per cent; and likewise, the number of children achieving appropriate standards of literacy at 11 has risen by a similar amount from 50 per cent.? How does he square that with his tale of denigration and crisis?

Mr. Green: I will come to standards in a moment. Labour Members are interested in the fact that standards started rising after the 1980s reforms and carried on rising until, coincidentally, last year. I find it instructive that the Whips' handouts all refer backwards. I am interested in looking at what is happening in our schools now and what is likely to happen as the Government's policies move forward. That, I think, will convince Labour Members who have an open mind on the subject that any of the benefits that may come from their Government's policies are already beginning to wear off. That is the most significant fact that the Government need to address.

I was giving various examples of incompetence, which is one of the problems faced by the Government. I know—I just feel it—that the Secretary of State will talk about investment. Indeed, the Government's amendment refers to sustained investment. It may be worth while drawing the House's attention to what that means. The Government continually boast about investment, but unfortunately, in another written answer to me, they have been forced to admit that, in 2000-01, they underspent the money allocated to the Department by £1.7 billion.

The Government appear to be adept at finding initiatives and other ways in which to spend money. The next time we hear the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister boasting about how much sustained investment they are putting into schools, perhaps they will tell us why they cannot even spend the money given to them. That money could have paid for laptop computers for all 429,300 teachers in England. The Government are keen on laptops and they could have provided them—a measure that I support—if they were not so incompetent. They cannot even spend the money that the Treasury gives them.

Mr. Chris Mole (Ipswich): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the first two new primary schools to be built in Ipswich for 25 years have been built since 1997? One is at Ravenswood and one at Raeburn and, at a cost of more than £1.5 million apiece, they have replaced the concrete and chicken-wire prefab schools that had been there since the 1920s and 1930s. Does he further accept that since 1997 my Suffolk local education authority area has had the best capital settlement for many years, and that the backlog of minor works in schools that had

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accumulated while the Tories were in Government, and which stood at £9 million, has been reduced to less than £2.5 million?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must give the hon. Member who is addressing the House an opportunity to speak.

Mr. Green: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has the two new primary schools in his constituency—he will soon learn their names without having to read them. However, he should talk to the teachers in those primary schools and see what they say about all the bureaucracy and paperwork that the Government are imposing on them, which I have been talking about. He will recognise over time, when the shine wears off, that teachers' morale is as low as it ever has been in this country, and that that is entirely due to the actions of this Government.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green: Certainly—I will always give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Levitt: I can assure the hon. Gentleman, as one who taught for 20 years—most of that time under the Tories—that morale today is considerably higher than it was in those days.

Mr. Green: I invite the hon. Gentleman to visit any school in London—many of them were closed last week by the first National Union of Teachers strike for 30 years—where he will find that the Secretary of State has reduced the morale of teachers in London to historically low levels. In case he missed the beginning of my speech, may I point out that since state education was created in this country in 1870, never have our head teachers united to ballot on industrial action? This Government, who the hon. Gentleman says have made teachers happier than ever before, have reduced head teachers—of all groups in society—to considering industrial action. If he thinks that they are happier than ever before, he is deluding himself.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): The Government set themselves some ambitious targets. The former Education Secretary, now Home Secretary, said that if he did not achieve certain targets within five years, he would resign. The only Minister who has been in the Department for the whole period of the Labour Government is the Secretary of State. Is she not honour bound to follow what her predecessor said and resign if those targets are not met?

Mr. Green: My hon. Friend is right. I have pursued that point with the right hon. Lady in the past and I admire her prudence in refusing to follow her predecessor's policy of promising resignation if the targets are not met. We shall see in a few months whether her conscience has been pricked.

Let me move from incompetence to policy failures. There are many, but by far the biggest is retaining teachers. I suspect that the right hon. Lady will boast about teacher recruitment. I point out gently that there is

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no point in recruiting ever higher numbers of trainee teachers if most of them leave within a few years. Pouring ever larger amounts of water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom is not a rational policy. [Interruption.]

Government Members do not want to take that from me, so perhaps they will take it from Ofsted, whose most recent report admitted that there was a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. It says—and Government Members waiting with quotes from 1997 should take note of it:

Ofsted states that the recruitment and retention of primary school staff is

The crisis that we once all knew was happening in our inner-city schools has, according to Ofsted, spread over the past two years under the present Government. The right hon. Lady will be concerned that more than 20 per cent. of teachers leave within three years of joining the profession.

I further adduce the evidence of the National Union of Teachers, whose survey found that the annual resignation rate in 2001 was 4 per cent. higher than the previous figure provided by employers in 1999. Under this Government, things are getting worse. I have one more piece of evidence before I give way again. About 85 per cent. of teachers who leave the profession—and this figure should worry the whole House—say that they do so for negative reasons connected with the teaching profession rather than because of the attraction of doing something else. People who are keen to be teachers are leaving because they are put off by the education system that they are forced to work in.

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