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Helen Jones (Warrington, North): The hon. Gentleman's argument seems to be that most of the children who truant are those who would not benefit from the normal curriculum—in his words, they are not suited to an academic curriculum. What evidence does he have for that? Under his Government, schools that did badly at GCSEs were overwhelmingly concentrated in the inner cities. This Government have tried to tackle that through the excellence in cities programme, which provides benefits for all children, whatever their talents. What is his solution for those who are truanting and who are bright?

Mr. Green: I am afraid that the hon. Lady may not have been concentrating as hard as usual. I just cited facts from the Government's own statistics showing that despite all their initiatives truancy has gone up, and by more in the inner cities than anywhere else. Whatever the situation that they inherited, what they have done has been relatively worse in its effects on inner cities. They have let down all children, but they have particularly let down those in the inner cities. I hope that she will reflect on that in her calmer moments. If she wants to talk about initiatives, I remember that education action zones were one of the great initiatives launched by the Secretary of State's predecessor and junked by the right hon. Lady as soon as she had the chance.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the biggest victims of loss of education are not truants, but those who are permanently excluded and get perhaps one day's education a year? Those people make up 70 per cent. of the prison population. Does he accept that in 1997 the number of people excluded was 30 per cent. higher, and does he endorse the Government's strategy of providing a permanent place for all children in education from this September?

Mr. Green: I think that that intervention may have been written by the Whips yesterday. Perhaps the hon.

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Gentleman has not noticed that the centrepiece of the Government's anti-drugs in schools strategy, which was announced today, is to increase the number of permanent exclusions. Of course, he is right that a significant percentage of the prison population is made up of those who are permanently excluded from school. That is not surprising. He and his Government Front Bench need to get together on the issue that I mentioned at the beginning—the coherence of their message. He may be right about the problems of permanent exclusion, and the Government may have been right in the policy that they announced in 1998, but that is not their policy today. I suggest that he takes that up with the Secretary of State.

Let me move on to the wider problem of discipline. The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) wants permanent exclusions to keep coming down. The Government used to set targets on that. One reason why disciplinary problems in schools have increased under this Government is precisely that the authority has been taken away from head teachers to exclude those whom they want to exclude. Teachers, not only heads, are unhappy with the situation. The Government always get cross when I quote the National Union of Teachers at them, so let me quote the Association of Teachers and Lecturers instead. It says that in the past year it received 120 complaints from teachers about physical abuse at school and that assaults on teachers rose fivefold between 1998 and 2001. That is terrible.

If the ATL is another trade union to which the Government do not want to listen, perhaps they will listen to Ofsted. It points out that the poor behaviour of a minority of pupils is cited as the major reason for teachers leaving the profession. If that is true, it is a great shame that the Government have spent much of their first five years in office encouraging the undermining of head teachers' authority and therefore encouraging the increase in violence in schools.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): Let me reinforce that point by bringing to hon. Members' attention the deep frustration of at least four secondary head teachers in my constituency. They told me that they feel that their hands are tied by a Government who are constantly trying to tell them how to do their job, especially its discipline aspects.

Mr. Green: My hon. Friend is right, but I resist the temptation to consider the Government's wider interference in the day-to-day work of schools. They have done enough damage through their interference in disciplinary systems.

It is extraordinary that, although the Government have so much information at their disposal, they do not bother to collect facts about the scale of violence in schools. My colleagues and I have asked the Government for some weeks for the number of teachers who are assaulted each year, the number who are assaulted by pupils and the number of assaults on pupils by pupils. The Government do not know the answer.

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): Oh no.

Mr. Green: The Secretary of State says, "Oh no". I refer her to written answers from her colleagues that

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state that they do not collect that information. Why do not the Government collect it? They know that matters are getting worse and are trying to disguise the fact rather than dealing with it.

We propose giving power over exclusions back where it belongs—with heads and governors. If they have the power to discipline children, discipline in schools will improve. That would send clear signals to unruly pupils and irresponsible and potentially violent parents that they cannot get away with their behaviour any longer. The Government have spent too long undermining heads and teachers; it is about time that they got behind them.

The Government's never-ending stream of initiatives has failed to tackle the two fundamental crises in our schools. Until they use something more substantial than summits, press conferences and initiatives, our most vulnerable children will never receive the education that they deserve. That stands as an indictment against the Government for five wasted years. They are betraying the hopes of a generation of children. They will not be forgiven and they do not deserve to be forgiven.

4.12 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:

I spotted two ideas from Tory Members. The first was our idea of taking away the child benefit from families who do not send their children to school. The second dealt with vocational studies and I shall deal with that later.

Mr. Willis: That is a Liberal Democrat idea.

Estelle Morris: It may be. In that case, it may be unanimously supported.

The speech of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) was rather sad. The subject of the debate is genuinely important and we all need to tackle it. That applies not only to politicians but to every member of the education service and of society. As I shall show, we have done a great deal to deal with the problem in the past five

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years. However, the hon. Gentleman was bereft of ideas. Indeed, his analysis was so poor that it is not surprising that he has not reached the stage of devising ideas.

I listened to the radio this morning and it became clear that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) is so bereft of ideas that the hon. Member for Ashford hardly referred to them. Apparently the hon. Gentleman will talk about the way in which the Tories want to concentrate on education provision for the disadvantaged. What a cheek. After 18 years in power, it is a cheek for the Tories to come to the House and even murmur a word about the most disadvantaged, those in the inner cities, the poor and the deprived. I shall outline the exact position of that group of young people in 1997, when we took over.

Nearly half the 11-year-olds did not achieve the expected standard in English and maths. That half did not consist of the sons and daughters of Members of Parliament; 20 per cent. of pupils who did not obtain GCSEs came from only 203 schools.

When we looked at literacy and numeracy, children in the most deprived areas—on deprived estates, for example—were going into secondary school not being able to read or write. At age seven, 90 per cent. of pupils from better-off families were reaching the expected standard; it was 63 per cent. from the families of the worse off. That is the record of the Conservative party, which now lectures us on the needs of children and their families in the most deprived areas and the most challenging circumstances.

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