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Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green: No. I have given way enough.

There are four reasons behind the crisis in education, and we know that the Government are in denial of them. Instead of dealing with the problems, the Secretary of State is doing her best to distract attention. On Thursday last week, I was delighted to be informed by Demos that she is launching a new pamphlet on secondary education. We are told that it will contain her vision. We are told that we need to combine this with "ongoing transformative change." Any improvement in the quality of English does not seem to have spread as far as Demos.

The serious point is that the right hon. Lady prefers publishing pamphlets to dealing with the mess in our schools, colleges and universities that her policies are creating. There is another vision of education, which I commend to the Government. We, the Opposition, believe, as we argued consistently throughout consideration of the Education Bill, that central Government need not and should not take every important decision on education. We support the activities of Ofsted—regular testing and the publication of test results and league tables. Most importantly, we believe that with all that outside inspection the Government do not need to tell schools how to run every minute of the school day.

The same thinking applies to the organisation of schools. We are relaxed about different types of schools emerging. We have no hang-ups about grammar schools or specialist schools. If a faith school is doing a good job, it should be supported, not have its ethos destroyed, as the Liberal Democrats and many Labour Members want. We are deeply sceptical about the Government's concept of earned autonomy; autonomy earned from a centralising Secretary of State is unlikely to be much autonomy at all. We want real autonomy for schools and an objective, independent, outside inspection system to ensure that they are doing their job for the community.

The Opposition therefore urge the Government to stop telling teachers how to do every aspect of their job; they are demoralised by constant nagging interference and far too many of them are leaving. The Government must stop introducing new gimmicks and instead sort out the problems in existing policies—a press release is no substitute for competent policy. The Government must stop producing education Bills that centralise power in the hands of the Secretary of State under the cloak of rhetoric about diversity. Schools and local government deserve more trust than the Government are prepared to give them. The Government must stop blaming everyone else for the difficulties caused by their mismanagement.

Teachers are not wreckers; they are hard-working professionals who are doing their best under increasingly difficult circumstances. The Opposition want an education

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system that transmits values as well as skills, promotes genuine diversity in schools, and allows good teachers to teach without the constant irritation of a Government directive telling them how to do their job. We want a university system that promotes excellence in learning, and vocational education that provides genuine skills for life for all.

After five years of this Government, it is increasingly clear that an education policy run by centralised diktat will not, and does not, work. Our schools, colleges and universities deserve better; if the Government cannot provide that, they will rightly stand condemned for failing to deliver on a vital commitment for the future of everyone in this country.

4.21 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) thinks that it is acceptable to wipe the slate clean on policy, and seems to have done the same to his memory. While I accept entirely that after five years in government we are accountable for what we have done during that period, it is appropriate to remind people of our starting point. In 1997, it was true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) said, that nearly one third of our infants were in classes of more than 30; there were 11,000 fewer teachers; there were 44,000 fewer education support staff; and four out of 10 of our 11-year-olds were starting secondary education without the literacy and numeracy skills that they needed to access the secondary curriculum. Schoolteachers witnessed year on year cuts in expenditure and year on year increases in class sizes; it took 25 months to turn round a school that had been put in special measures; and there was a £2,800 cut over a number of years in the amount of money given to higher education students.

I am immensely proud of what we have achieved in five years, but I am not complacent. In one of the most important of all public services, we still have a long way

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to go. As we defend our record today against the attack, if one can call it that, from the hon. Member for Ashford, I feel more complacent than I should, if that is the worst that the Opposition can pin on us after five years.

I want to refer to three or four key issues in the motion and in the hon. Gentleman's speech. First, the process of teacher recruitment and retention is far more complicated than he would have us believe. As I have said time after time in the House, I accept that schools, particularly in London and the south-east, but also in Swindon, Reading and Oxford, find it extremely tough to recruit and retain sufficient teachers. I know that head teachers are taking on teachers whom, if they had had more of a choice, they may not have appointed. To pretend otherwise would not be facing up to reality.

However, another set of statistics shows another aspect of reality that must be considered if we are to make any progress. It was right to ask the hon. Gentleman the question, "What would the Tories do?" because they have come up with only one solution—cut paperwork. However, the problem is more complicated than that. Those of us who believe that recruiting and retaining the best people in the teaching profession is a key challenge must look at the statistics and confront reality.

The reality is this: there are 11,000 more teachers now than there were in 1997. There are 7,000 more teaching posts this year than there were last year. We are recruiting 8 per cent. more into training to be teachers this year, and that is on top of 5 per cent. more last year.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): More are leaving.

Estelle Morris: No. Think about the maths. The hon. Gentleman should have had the numeracy hour. If there are more teachers now than there were in 1997, more must be joining than are leaving. That is what produces the net increase.

Applications this year are up on last year—20 per cent. up in maths, 10 per cent. up in English, 8 per cent. up in science, 4 per cent. up in modern foreign languages, 15 per cent. up in technology, and 3,200 have been recruited on the graduate teacher programme, yet there are still vacancies.

The challenge is to reconcile those two sets of information. There are more teachers, there are more posts, and there are more vacancies in some areas. Not to accept that reality, and to think that sending out fewer bits of paper would solve the problem shows that six or seven months after the general election, the Opposition have still thought of nothing beyond that.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): One piece of paper that my right hon. Friend sent to schools last week—I have visited several schools in the intervening period—was especially welcome. I do not support every jot and aspect of Government policy, but the tone and content of my right hon. Friend's call to teachers to focus on contact time and productive areas of activity and to withdraw from marginal areas was most welcome. It was a motivating influence in the staff rooms of the schools that I visited. I congratulate her on it.

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