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Mr. Ivan Lewis: Given the consensus that a far more individual-based learning programme is in the interests of the system and of young people, does the hon. Gentleman agree that GCSEs will still be appropriate for many young people? Does it remain his party's policy that GCSEs should be abolished?

Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman should read again my north of England speech, a copy of which I kindly gave him. What my party and I object to is the universalist approach whereby all students should take GCSEs at 16. If an institution decides to examine literacy and numeracy to the national standards through GCSE english and mathematics at age 14 or 17, that is a matter of agreement between the student and institution concerned.

I urge the Minister to avoid getting bogged down. If we want to liberate the process, we cannot at the same time argue that we must judge schools and ensure that they keep to their task through the principle of five GCSEs at grade A to C for 16-year-olds. The Minister should not turn his back on the idea of scrapping league tables for 16-year-olds, and of finding different ways to evaluate student progress and what schools, colleges and other providers do.

Mr. Lewis: I accept that we need to refine the way in which we measure performance, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if our reforms for 14 to 19-year-olds are to work, the issue is not the scrapping of league tables? I suspect that the speech to which he refers contains an element of spin. Is it his party's policy that GCSEs should be abolished?

Mr. Willis: Other Members would probably rather speak than hear us bandy words about. I made it absolutely clear in my north of England speech that the universal application of GCSEs has had its day, but I have no problem with a school's wanting to use GCSEs as part of its process.

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Before the Minister gets too excited, I should explain what happens in some of the schools that I have visited. In year 11, students in those schools spend two to three weeks before Christmas preparing for their mock GCSEs. In the run-up to Easter, they spend another three or four weeks in preparation. They have a further four weeks' study leave, and then they spend three weeks sitting their GCSEs. That is some 13 weeks in total. After that, they have nine weeks off. If the Minister is condoning that amount of lost educational opportunity, he must say so. I want us to use that time in a much more productive and valuable way.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I tell the House that the first four speeches have taken 139 minutes, with the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) clocking up the longest innings so far? To my mind, that represents self- indulgence. There are 11 hon. Members trying to take part in a debate that can now last only about 90 minutes. I ask for rather more restraint on their part if I am to satisfy as many as possible.

5.4 pm

Mr. Kerry Pollard (St. Albans): It is almost a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). We last debated together in a television studio, when we were on opposite sides of the argument. I agreed with much of the sentiment behind his speech.

On Shakers' credentials, I was a regular supporter at Gigg Lane years before any of the Front Benchers, and, I suspect, before my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor).

The ages between 14 and 19 are when most young people decide which route to follow of the many available. Some will follow an academic route from secondary school to higher education, some will go to further education and some will leave school at 16 and go to work, or a combination of the two. That time is the gateway to their future. My constituency has excellent secondary schools, all with full rolls and highly successful sixth forms. Indeed, three of my schools came top in the performance league tables.

We have an ongoing problem with a shortage of school places, as a result of which some students have to travel outside the town to secure a secondary school place. Each year, the county consults on how to resolve the problem. One year, the villages to the north are selected and the next the villages to the south, so the problem is batted about. This year, the villages to the north have been selected, with the Tory county council deciding that Sandringham school, which is bang in the middle of my constituency, should be allocated to Harpenden, which is—incredibly—five miles away. That beggars belief, and I have written to the Secretary of State to seek advice. I also presented a petition to Parliament last night, asking that that crazy scheme be overruled.

All the sixth forms are highly successful, offering a range of academic and vocational courses. We also have a good FE college that provides a huge range of academic, vocational and recreational courses. All the post-16

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providers work together in consortiums to ensure that the range, level and quality of arrangements for our students are first class.

A cause for concern is the change in the funding arrangements, whereby the Learning and Skills Council has taken over responsibility from the local education authority. Our secondary schools are especially worried about the continued funding of their sixth forms. Over the years, a gap has opened up between the funding per pupil for sixth forms and for FE colleges. The worry is that a levelling down will occur, which would seriously jeopardise the continuing viability of our successful sixth forms.

St. Albans has benefited from much capital expenditure over the past few years, including a new roof on Nicholas Breakspear school, a new gymnasium at Loreto school, a new sports centre at Marlborough school and new science facilities at Beaumont school. I could go on and on. Only this morning, the Under-Secretary with responsibility for early years and school standards opened a nursery centre of excellence—one of only 50 in the country—in my constituency. Many millions of pounds have been spent.

Extra revenue has also been made available, in one form or another, to all our schools. By far the most popular form is the one-off sums—typically £50,000 for a secondary school—that the Chancellor has announced periodically. Those sums are not ring-fenced and can generally be used by schools to meet their own priorities. It is rumoured that later this week some more money will be available for teachers as part of the school achievement award.

Some of our secondary schools were shut last week when the National Union of Teachers staged a one-day strike. I have total sympathy with and understanding of teachers' real concern, although I have my doubts about their method of drawing attention to it. However, I have stood on picket lines myself in years gone by.

Teachers deserve to be treated the same as other professionals. It costs a teacher the same as a police officer to live in an expensive area. Teachers in my area receive a £750 cost of living allowance, whereas police officers receive two and a half times that amount.

I wish to address the subject of apprenticeships. We are acutely short of plumbers, electricians, carpenters and others with light skills. Young people do not seem to be attracted to those highly skilled and highly paid trades. That shortage is seriously undermining our local and regional economy. One of the reasons for the shortage is that those skills are less valued than computing or business studies skills. Each skill is of equal value and we need brain surgeons and plumbers—and more of the latter. When water is pouring through the ceiling, I know which I would prefer to be on hand.

It is imperative that we actively promote the concept of vocational skills. I recently met the Federation of Master Builders, which shares my concern. It proposes an innovative idea whereby young people start their apprenticeships in year 11. We all know of young people who see little value in continuing their studies in year 11 but who might be happy to begin their transition into work while still at school.

Another scheme is run at Feltham young offenders centre. One of the training arms of Ford motor company has set up a pilot scheme to train young offenders to become motor mechanics. The scheme has been working

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since October with, I am told, 20 young offenders taking part. Once they have finished their sentence, they will complete their apprenticeship in a Ford garage in their area.

That seems a fantastic scheme. It is a great credit both to Ford and the prison authorities. My guess is that those young people will grow in confidence and self-esteem as a direct result of that initiative, will end up with a marketable skill and will resume their role as a productive member of society.

I pay tribute to Tony Bartlett, who retires today after being head teacher at Marlborough school in my constituency for the past 18 years. He is an educator to his fingertips, an inspirational leader who has transformed a failing school. It is now full—it has a full sixth-form—and is immensely popular. His retirement is a loss to education. He is one of the best men I know and I wish him well. I commend the Green Paper.

5.10 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): My contribution will be equally brief, given the number of hon. Members who wish to contribute to the debate.

My perception of education at the moment is that there is a crisis. When I visit schools, two things clearly emerge. The first is the amount of bureaucracy—the circulars to schools from the Department for Education and Skills, and the amount of time it takes teachers and head teachers to read them. The second is the shortage of teachers.

A total of 300,000 qualified teachers under the age of 60 are no longer in education. In 2001—in this era of acute teacher shortage—83,400 people who held teaching certificates had never used them. The number of teacher vacancies has risen in England and Wales. In 2001, it rose to 5,079, up nearly 60 per cent. on the 2,977 vacancies in 2000. Therefore, many of my schools are struggling to deliver core subjects in the curriculum.

I recently visited Poole high school, which has a problem with mathematics teachers. The problem is not unique to Poole high school; it affects many schools throughout the country. The school has a number of classes with no maths teachers; pupils are simply being supervised. The situation is made a lot worse by the fact that the Government are funding more advisers, the pay scales for whom are leading more teachers to leave schools; Poole local education authority has lost six experienced teachers. I am not sure that there are the means of delivering many of the Green Paper's lofty aspirations.

I welcome a number of things in the Green Paper. We clearly have a chronic skills shortage throughout the United Kingdom, and to tackle it a much broader range of skills will have to be delivered. Three quarters of 16 to 18-year-olds in England were either in education or in training at the end of 2000, which is below European, OECD and G7 levels. If we are to retain a world-class economy and be not the fourth largest economy in the world but the third largest, we must produce a lot more people with a greater range of skills.

I welcome the teaching of citizenship, which is long overdue and necessary. Problems arise when we create pathways whereby people have to go to more than one

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institution. The difficulty in rural areas is that people are not going to have the same choices as those in urban areas. When I was on the education committee in my former life as a local councillor, the question of people having to travel between institutions tended to loom large.

As the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) said, advice for pupils will be remarkably important. The Green Paper says that there will be little additional burden on teachers, that there may be more training and that there will be implications for employing more teachers, but I do not think that it says enough about that. Although it sets out the vision, as it were, it asks lots of very wide questions, as the Minister acknowledged in his reply to my intervention. When we get the consultation about where we are heading, we will have to decide how to execute policy. With a shortage of teachers, it will be very difficult to execute a policy over the next few years. That is my principal point.

My next point is on funding. One of Dorset's disadvantages is that it is in the south-west of the country and does not get the area cost adjustment. Poole borough council suffers grievously from not receiving the area cost adjustment. There are gaps—about £200 per pupil in the resources that Poole and Hampshire receive—affecting almost all age groups. It will be difficult to deliver good-quality education. The area cost adjustment is worth 6.2 per cent. extra to our neighbour in Hampshire. If that were available to Poole, the local education authority would receive an extra £3.482 million a year. During my five years as an MP, Poole has been deprived of about £17.5 million of education provision for its pupils.

When the Government decided to remove post-16 funding and introduce learning and skills councils, they institutionalised the area cost adjustment within those funding arrangements. Many schools in my area are suffering from a shortage of teachers and of resources. They work hard and produce good results in the national league tables, but it is not easy without full support. Delivery in Poole will therefore require greater emphasis on securing the requisite teachers, and better and fairer funding for our local schools, which we are not receiving.

The document has important implications for teacher supply and teacher work load, and more should have been said about them if we want the strategy to succeed.

Those are my major points. In order to give other hon. Members a chance to contribute to the debate, I shall conclude.

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