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House of Commons

Thursday 4 May 2000

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


London Local Authorities Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 11 May.

Kent County Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Medway Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Mersey Tunnels Bill (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 11 May.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Job Retention Pilots

1. Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): If he will make a statement on the role of the new job retention pilots. [119615]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge): The pilots will develop effective ways to prevent people having to give up work because of illness and disability. Each week, about 3,000 people are forced to stop working for those reasons and only 300 will ever work again; that is an unacceptable waste of talent. We will announce our detailed plans for the pilots in the summer.

Mr. Miller: I welcome my hon. Friend's statement. However, we really need a cultural change. Will she join me in urging employers' organisations to bring about such a change so as to make it possible for people who develop disabilities to retain their jobs?

Ms Hodge: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that we require a cultural change. Some employers are working closely with us and on their own to ensure that they employ more disabled people. For example, Centrica in Manchester has worked with us on a pilot; the company has taken on 50 disabled people. May I share a little story with the House, Madam Speaker? It is a good one. When I visited Centrica, I met a man, who had been out of work

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for five years--this is not very funny--who had a hearing impairment. He was given work by Centrica, who told me--surprise, surprise--that his productivity was double that of any of his co-workers. What was especially warm and heartening was that three of the people at his workstation were learning how to sign. That is exactly the social and economic inclusion to which we aspire.

SSA (South Gloucestershire)

2. Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): On what basis the education standard spending assessment for primary school pupils in South Gloucestershire was calculated. [119616]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): Education funding for primary and secondary school pupils is distributed to local education authorities through standard spending assessments, which are calculated using objective information about the demographic, economic and social characteristics of an area--such as pupil numbers, census data and income support data.

Mr. Webb: As the Minister is well aware, the primary children of South Gloucestershire are at the bottom of the league for funding in England, as they have been ever since the council was created. Do the Government believe that it costs less to educate a child in South Gloucestershire than anywhere else in the country? If that is not their belief, when can my constituents expect the situation to change?

Ms Morris: The answer to the second question is, probably not. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman for taking every opportunity to put that question. Time and again we have made the answer clear and, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I repeat that, when we make changes, we must get them right. The consequence of getting it wrong is what he and we are living with--18 years of inaction on SSAs and LEA funding by the previous Conservative Government. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would prefer us to tackle the matter properly by looking at the evidence and building a fair and transparent system that gives every school and LEA a chance to raise standards.

A Green Paper will be published in the summer. Meanwhile, I know that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that we are doing our best--within the freeze on SSAs--to put more funding into schools. As his question was on primary schools, he will welcome the fact that, whereas about 3,500 five, six and seven-year-olds in his area were in classes of more than 30 at the time of the general election, the number is now as low as 670. We are making progress where we can; we shall review the funding in the summer.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): Will my right hon. Friend look again at the work of the E40 Group, of which South Gloucestershire--like my authority, Gloucestershire-- is a member? Will she consider not only additional educational needs, but the proposals to try to bring below-average spending authorities up to the average, so that the whole system is genuinely fair?

Ms Morris: I have indeed considered the work of the E40 Group on--in its view--the worst-funded LEAs. That is part of the evidence that we shall examine; it will

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inform our judgments. We all know that it is not easy to decide on a formula that everyone considers to be fair. No Member of the House has ever told me or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the funding formula treats them too well; we must bear that in mind. However, of course, we acknowledge that some children and some schools need extra resources to raise standards, so we are not arguing for a flat rate. My right hon. Friend is interested in a pupil entitlement on which we can build with fair, transparent extra money for those schools that need it most. That is without commitment to the work of the E40 Group, but, of course, its research will form part of our thinking over the next few months.

Teacher Training

3. Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): If he will make a statement on the teacher recruitment and training salaries for postgraduates entering teacher training. [119618]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): On 30 March, I announced training salaries for postgraduate initial teacher training, improved golden hellos for those training and going on to teach in shortage subjects and new funding for schools offering places on the graduate training programme, with 13,000 salaries to encourage, in particular, mature students into that route. Since then, almost 2,000 people have applied to do postgraduate certificates of education--nearly 30 per cent. up on the same period last year. I have asked the Teacher Training Agency to help reinforce that by putting in place a major advertising campaign. Given that, and the new measures to improve the salary and earning prospects of teachers, we hope to be able to attract many more of our best graduates into teaching.

Mr. Cox: I thank my right hon. Friend for that detailed and welcome reply. He and his team are to be congratulated on the efforts that they have made to achieve substantial increases in salary to graduates coming into the teaching profession and on the increased status that such salaries will give to the profession. Everyone from both sides of the House knows from our communities that the general public want ever-increasing respect for the teaching profession. My right hon. Friend's announcement this morning is a clear indication of the Government's commitment to that.

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend. The endeavour now is to get everyone, including teachers and their leaders, to spell out the message that teaching is a good profession to enter. It is fulfilling and rewarding and it is an essential part of ensuring that the next generation is better educated than the last.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Those are welcome messages, but more important will be the ability to retain new teachers, and that will depend on sustained funding of pay increases. Why has the Secretary of State top-sliced the budget, causing so many problems for local education authorities?

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have increased funding for this financial year by 8.5 per cent. in real terms, which is as much as the total

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real-terms increase that the previous Government put in during the whole of the previous Parliament. Our plans for the new pay awards and for the retention of teachers resulting from the increased salary potential will be welcomed by teachers from this autumn as they see the results coming through. That new money will be sustained over the years to come, so that those applying to go through the threshold to access the new pay levels and new incremental scales will have the guarantee that resources will be available not just from this autumn, but in the years to come.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): I welcome the measures that the Government have introduced to ensure that teachers are properly paid and have proper respect in the communities that they serve, but can my right hon. Friend answer a question that was raised by a teacher in one of my local schools? She told me that she was disappointed to find that there was a time barrier and that she would have to serve for a number years before she could receive the enhancements under the new scheme. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that good enough measures are in place to ensure that teachers can be promoted rapidly in the same way as young people so often are if they work in the private sector?

Mr. Blunkett: All teachers who are at point 9 on the scale or beyond will be entitled to access the £2,000 uplift and the consequent incremental scales that will take them to £30,000 and beyond. Those who are not yet at point 9 on the scale because they have not been in the profession long enough will be entitled, as from this autumn, to access the new fast-track procedures that will enable them to move more rapidly through the existing incremental scale so that they are able to access the new thresholds.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): Not only have the Government failed to meet their targets for recruitment into teaching training--recruitment into initial teacher training fell again this year--but a recent poll showed that more than half of those in the teaching profession expect to leave it in the next decade because of the work load, stress and bureaucratic burdens that the Secretary of State is imposing on them. The Government's own better regulation taskforce has said that

As an aid to attracting postgraduates and others into teaching and to encouraging more teachers to stay in the profession, will the Secretary of State now tell the House how many fewer, compared to last year, circulars, letters and notes his Department intends to send out in paper or electronic form to schools, directly or through local education authorities, in the remaining seven and a half months of this year?

Mr. Blunkett: It would be futile to give a statistical answer setting out how many pieces of paper I shall send out or the number of electronic communications that will be made, not least because, as the better regulation taskforce pointed out, many of the missives that schools are complaining about come from other agencies or local authorities and not from the Department, where the working party report has been implemented. [Interruption.] I am being heckled by Conservative

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Members. The statistics that they quoted publicly turned out to relate to education authority missives to schools and not to the batch mailings from the Department.

There is the problem of ensuring that the material that goes out is relevant, is in the right form, is accessible and genuinely consults where that is necessary. We shall take whatever steps are needed to make that happen and to ensure that we get things right. In the end, people are not put off from coming into teaching because of consulting on regulations and the sending out of pieces of paper to ensure that teachers have up-to-date information on best teaching practice. They are put off by the Jonahs who keep on saying that teaching is a bad profession to be in and playing down the enormous gains that have been made in literacy, numeracy, standards of education and pay levels.

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