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Ms Estelle Morris: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. Normally, I would not intervene on a 10-minute speech. He is making a thoughtful speech and I particularly applaud him for the way he has tried to give a balanced view and to praise teachers. Can I confirm that he was not suggesting that widespread fiddling is going on at key stage 2 tests? I do not believe that he would want to give that impression, but I fear that when he comes to read Hansard he may find that he has.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a wide range of measures in place to ensure that tests are administered fairly? A group that looked at the quality of key stage 2 tests only last year--a group to which his own party made a nomination--said that, on the whole, tests are the standard that they have always been and are administered fairly. Not to stress that is to undermine teachers and pupils in the very way he has been seeking to avoid in his speech.

Mr. Collins: I will be happy to look back at what I said in Hansard. I quoted an Ofsted inspector who, in turn, was quoted in The Guardian as referring to widespread fiddling. I believe that I made it clear earlier--I am happy to confirm it again--that I do not believe that fiddling is widespread. However, I think that there is a genuine problem with the burdens placed on teachers. That is what I am asking the Minister to reflect on.

Earlier, the Secretary of State said that, at times, he contemplated following the example of a teacher and giving up to go to the Lake district. On behalf of the Lake district--part of which I am happy to represent--may I say that I hope he will not be seeking to bring his career to quite such a premature end? However, I issue an invitation to him or any other DFEE Minister to come to the Lake district and talk to some of the hard-working teachers in the excellent south Cumbrian secondary schools who would like to talk to a Minister about these points. I hope that it will be possible for Ministers to come soon to do that.

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9.8 pm

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): I welcome the opportunity to debate the current problems of supply and recruitment of teachers. However, the speech from the Opposition Front Bench by the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) disappointed me enormously, as it seemed to be another excuse to lower the morale of teachers and make matters worse. It can take up to four years to train a qualified teacher, so many of the problems that we are experiencing now can be traced back directly to the failure of the previous Conservative Administration to provide the additional funding or to restructure initial training in the 1990s.

I have particular reason to speak in this debate as Corby community college in my constituency has had to establish a temporary four-day week as a result of the difficulties that it has recently experienced in recruiting permanent staff. I have met many parents in recent weeks and I share their deep concern about the impact of the four-day week on their children's education as well as the supervision of the children during study days at home. The school's head teacher and staff, along with the education authority and Corby's education action zone, neighbouring schools and, indeed, the Government are working hard together in this difficult period to provide a stable, well-balanced curriculum in the school and support for students who have to stay at home to study.

That fresh start school was created from the merger of two schools in Corby, both of which had falling standards and numbers as a result of Conservative underfunding and neglect in the 1990s. They were failing their children despite the best efforts of their staff. The decision to give those children a fresh start at a new school was therefore right, and we all look forward to the school moving to a new purpose-built site next September, for which it has received £3 million of Government expenditure. That launch will provide a real fresh start for the school.

In the past nine months, the local education authority and the school have worked vigorously to fill those posts with experienced, enthusiastic and committed teachers. Regrettably, however, the wider national shortage of teachers, which everyone in the Chamber acknowledges, has had a disproportionate impact on a school that, inevitably, is going through a difficult period. Right now, the school, the LEA, the education action zone and other schools are working together, with the support of the Government, to establish as quickly as possible a team of temporary teachers with the strength, quality and consistency to develop good relationships with the pupils.

I am pleased to say that the LEA has provided additional help through Northamptonshire's inclusion and pupil support service, and the inspectorate and advisory staff have worked with the staff and management of the school to develop and improve the curriculum. We all want the school to get back to normal as soon as possible, and if the interim measures are successful I hope that we can hit the target of 13 November or an even earlier date.

Of course, the key issue is recruiting permanent staff so that the school has a full complement of talented individuals committed to every child in it. I therefore hope that the new recruitment drive will be successful. The LEA has helped by seconding a personnel officer to work in the school, and additional recruitment and retention allowances for all staff are being discussed to ensure greater stability.

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The recruitment campaign has already attracted 66 inquiries, and 22 applicants will be interviewed by the school in the next few days. The Government have helped by discussing with the Teacher Training Agency how the school can make the best use of the graduate training scheme. The Government, the LEA, the education action zone and the school are therefore working together to ensure that the permanent posts are filled by January.

That approach is in stark contrast to the divisive opportunism of the Conservative party. I am sad that the hon. Member for Maidenhead, the Opposition's education spokesperson, refused to apologise for the damage that she did when she parachuted into Corby on a campaigning trip. Corby people were not impressed by the hon. Lady's statements in the press that she was critical of giving Corby children a fresh start. She made no apology for the Tories' failure to recruit and train sufficient teachers when they were in office and called for the abolition of LEAs at the very time that the school was relying on the LEA for support, as I have described. She did not offer Corby a single constructive proposal to help the college in its present difficulties. Tonight's Opposition motion does not include a single constructive proposal, either.

Let us be clear: if the LEA had been abolished and the education action zone closed down as the Tories propose, Corby community college--which is doing its best, but is struggling--and every other school needing such support would have no one left to turn to. I am convinced that by working with others, and with Government support, the college will be a real success. We have come a long way in Corby in the three years since Labour came to office and, for the first time in many years, school standards are rising and young people are looking forward to new job prospects and future training. GCSE results are up, not falling as the Opposition said.

Lodge Park school in my constituency was not visited, but it is one of the most improved secondary schools in the country. Corby primary schools are showing rapid improvements in their SATs results. We are getting tremendous support, not just from the Government and the LEA but from local businesses, voluntary organisations and others, through the Corby-wide education action zone. That is worth £1 million a year in additional resources to deliver targeted projects and raise standards. Most important, it helps to create a different culture, in which schools work together and give each other mutual support.

That is an example of Labour delivering in Corby. Children and schools there are just beginning to emerge from the dark days of the previous Tory Government, when a few children benefited from extra resources but too many were left to struggle on in schools that were underfunded and left unsupported by an uncaring Conservative Government.

The Opposition's public services guarantee means that the Tories would have to cut 15,000 teachers and scrap the Government's class size policy. The 6,000 teachers who have been employed to reduce class sizes would go. As the debate this evening has shown, the Tories have no commitment to matching our spending on standards.

The Tories have said that they would abolish LEAs, so there would be no support, help or advice from that quarter for schools. They say that the free market should rule, but that would only create sink schools doomed to failure. In Corby, that would once more condemn children

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to wasted lives and missed opportunities. We would lose out on the £3 million investment in the Corby community college, there would be no support for an education action zone, and even the sure start programme helping younger children would go.

I stand here tonight on behalf of parents and students at Corby community college and of every family in Corby to tell the Government what we have achieved so far and to ask for more. We want 100 per cent. more. We are going places in Corby and we are beginning to see the real potential of Corby's children, but we have a lot more to do. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past and let our children down again.

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