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The right hon. Gentleman deals in his letter with the expansion of the graduate teacher programme and asks whether I will support that. I believe that we must consider different ways of bringing people into teaching at various stages of their life, but I want to see the whole of teacher training changed, with the emphasis on training in schools and learning the craft of teaching. I want to open up the recruitment market for teachers, getting rid of the rigidities in the system.
That will be a far more significant change of approach than tinkering at the edges, as the Government have done, because of their complacency. They offer a bit here and a bit there, but the problem remains.
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. In the letter, I argued that the problem with her policy was that the Opposition cannot refuse to acknowledge that they will match our spending, and then undertake to spend money on teacher recruitment from the centre. Teacher recruitment funding does not come from delegated budgets to schools. It comes from the £180 million that we have allocated for the teacher recruitment and bursary programme and for the school-based graduate salaries that we introduced. I challenge the hon. Lady to say tonight whether she would match the £180 million by 2002 that we will be spending on that issue.
Mrs. May: I have already responded to the Secretary of State. It is not a question of one programme or another. We must consider the whole issue of teacher training and recruitment--the entire package that teachers are offered. We must ensure that teachers come forward because they want once again to do the job of encouraging children to learn in our schools. Sadly, teachers are turning away from that because of the bureaucracy and red tape coming from the Government.
Mr. Allan: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. There is an important point for anyone who is at university and considering a career in teaching. If the Conservatives were re-elected to government, would they get rid of the golden hellos, the graduate salaries and so on, keep them or enhance them? We need to know that, and graduates need to know that when planning their careers.
Mrs. May: I make this promise to anyone who is considering teacher training: when they come into teacher training under the next Conservative Government in the near future, they will have a far better time in teaching and be able to exercise their professional judgment in the classroom in a way that they cannot do under the present Government.
Mrs. May: Yet again, the Secretary of State shows that he does not care about what goes on in our schools and that he is out of touch with the reality of pressures that teachers face. Those pressures are driving them out of the profession. We are considering not only teachers, their longevity and health, but the quality of education for children.
Mr. Bercow: Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Secretary of State felt an ounce of sympathy for head teachers such as Marjorie Evans and the predicament in which she recently found herself, he could have expressed it? He did not do that because he feels no sympathy.
Mrs. May: The Secretary of State's response to teachers who are worried about the way in which malicious allegations can be made against them, and who find their names dragged through the press and their careers ruined, is that it is nothing to do with him if it happens in Wales. His attitude is, "It's a Welsh matter, so I wasn't going to say anything."
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): The Secretary of State's comment was revealing. Although the incident may have been a Welsh matter, it worries teachers throughout the land. The Secretary of State's complacency shows how out of touch he is.
Mrs. May: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Teachers across the country are worried about malicious allegations, and ministerial complacency is breathtaking. Teachers fear that they will be the subject of a malicious allegation, have their names dragged through the press, and have their careers ruined and lives shattered.
One of the key problems that face teachers is red tape and interference from the Government. Last year, one circular was issued by the Department for Education and Employment for every hour of a teacher's work. That robs teachers of time that should be spent in the classroom or preparing lessons. It saps them of energy and enthusiasm and takes away the ability to inspire children. Education should be about inspiring children. Teachers want to ignite the spark in all children, whatever their abilities, that creates a thirst for knowledge and understanding, and an interest in their subject. Exhausted teachers, desperately covering for vacancies that are not in their departments, barely have time and energy to prepare a lesson, let alone ignite the spark of inspiration.
Our teachers are working desperately hard to maintain standards, but the Labour Government have loaded the dice against them. They impose yet more targets and bureaucracy, they name and shame and they centralise. They sap the teaching profession's morale, which sinks lower and lower. The Government's approach, symbolised by the attitude of Government Front-Bench Members this evening, and their sedentary interventions, shows how out of touch they are and how little they care about what happens in our schools.
Unless the Government act now to cut red tape, and stop centralising and interfering in schools, the move out of teaching will continue. The Government will realise that all their tinkering constituted a mere pebble in the ocean. People who express an interest in applying to be teachers will not apply, those who train will not take up teaching posts and teachers will continue to leave. That is not simply a debating point; it is vital if we are to provide a decent standard of education for the country's children.
As one person who is closely involved said, the system is close to meltdown. I hope that the Secretary of State can turn his mind from dreams of becoming Home Secretary and focus on the problems in his Department. Tonight, if the Secretary of State merely promotes his incentives once more and fails to address the underlying problems, the message that he sends to teachers, parents and governors is that he is not interested in the problems that they face from day to day, and that he has closed his ears to their pleas and set his face against the necessary action to reverse the tide of decline. There is a desperate need to set schools free, give head teachers the power to exercise discipline, rid teachers of the red tape and bureaucracy that bedevils them and let teachers teach. The next Conservative Government will do that.
If the Government continue to centralise, interfere, tell teachers how to teach and increase red tape, they will let down not only teachers but children. Standards of education will fall and people will know where the blame lies: with an arrogant, complacent and out-of-touch Labour Government, and Labour will pay the price.