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9.45 pm

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): First, Mr. Speaker, may I congratulate you on your election to the Chair? I also congratulate the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) on his appointment to the Front Bench. He made an intervention on his first appearance on the Front Bench, and I hope that he stays there for a long time.

This has been an important debate. With the exception of the opening and closing speeches from the Opposition, most of the Opposition speeches were sensitive and made a genuine contribution to a crucial issue. I acknowledge the sensitivity of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), who has real feeling for the schools in his constituency and made a thoughtful contribution. Without wishing to sound patronising, may I say that the speech of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) was one of the best that I have heard him make? Again, it was thoughtful, and I particularly applaud his idea for coping with the shortage of maths teachers.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) has been a valiant advocate of schools in his area and has some personal responsibility for the success of the education action zone. In return for what he has done for the school that is in difficulty in his constituency, of course I pledge all the support that we can give and all the support that that school will need until it is back on track and all the children are back in full-time education.

There is widespread agreement that without good teachers, standards will not improve. Good teachers are the key. We have many excellent teachers, and many of them achieve against the odds. Their performance over recent years has been the best of any generation of teachers that have gone before them. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) that the quality of education has gone down. The quality of teaching has gone up, and that is reflected in improved examination results.

Yes, teaching is demanding. We ask more of our teachers than we ever asked of any previous generation of teachers. We must do that because education is more important now than in any previous generation. Teachers meet that demand. They are the generation of teachers who have produced the most literate and numerate group of 11-year-olds, who have got the best GCSE and A-level results, and who teach the broadest curriculum.

Yes, we need more teachers, and yes, there is a problem. Nobody seeks to hide from that. We do need more teachers. Strangely enough, we need more teachers at the very time that we have more teachers in post than we have had for a decade. We have 10,000 more teachers in post than we had two years ago.

We need more teachers because times are changing and expectations are changing. We need more because we want class sizes to be smaller. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) has had 123 extra teachers over the past three years to meet the primary school pledge in the local education authority where his constituency lies. We need more teachers because more parents want early years education and because more pupils are staying on at school.

The task has always been tough. It has never been easy to get as many teachers as we want into the school system. Compare what we have to do in our sector with what the private sector and other public sector employers have to do. We must attract 19,000 or 20,000 graduates each year into teaching if we are to meet the targets. PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the biggest of the private sector graduate recruiters, needs 1,300 graduates, KPMG needs 600, BT needs 500 and IBM needs 400. That is the enormity of the task. To reach the target for maths trainees next year, we must recruit 70 per cent. of those who leave university with a maths degree. That shows the difficulty that we face. No hon. Member should come to the House and pretend that glib statements about cutting paperwork will solve the problem. There is a long way to go, and we have made a start.

Conservative Members speak as though they discovered only recently that there was a crisis--[Hon. Members: "There is no crisis."] Conservative Members believed that there was a crisis and that they had discovered it. If there was a crisis, it happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Let us consider the figures. In 1989, vacancies were 1.5 per cent.; the figure is now half that. A decade ago, vacancies in London were 3.7 per

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cent.; the figure is now less than half that. Fewer than 22,000 people were recruited for initial teacher training in 1989; the current figure is higher than 28,000. In 1989, 450 pupils on any one day were sent home from schools in Tower Hamlets because there were not enough teachers to staff the classrooms.

The key point is not whether we have always found it difficult to recruit teachers, but what successive Governments have done about it. The dividing line is there. The Conservative party did nothing during the long years of difficulty in recruiting teachers. They relied on waiting for an economic bust. Boom and bust in the economic cycle meant bust and boom in teacher recruitment. They mirrored each other. The Conservative party's best performance on recruitment was in 1992, when the economy was in deep decline. That cannot be right; it is a one-club approach to teacher recruitment. It involves no incentives, no investment, no extra money for training and no valuing of those who teach shortage subjects. Conservative Members displayed no anxiety about red tape and bureaucracy then. Their policy was, "Hang on a minute, just wait, we're a Tory Government and there's bound to be economic decline around the corner. Recruitment will then increase."

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): As one who was there, I wonder whether the Minister is suffering from selective amnesia. Twice she has said that the Conservative Government took no action to deal with teacher shortages. Does not she recall the scarce-subject bursaries, which, to some extent, were material in solving the problems in the specific subjects for which they were tailored? Has she forgotten them?

Ms Morris: I remember them, but they were not material in solving the problems. Where are they now? I tried to find out about the bursaries. [Interruption.] I tell hon. Members, they were not available for students who went into initial teacher training in 1997; like every other scheme, they faded with the previous Government's cutbacks.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister is holding a conversation. She should not do that.

Ms Morris: If that is the only suggestion that the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) can make about the way in which the previous Government dealt with the teacher crisis--as it was in their day--it is no wonder that we inherited a teacher recruitment problem, just as we inherited other problems such as crumbling schools, and literacy and numeracy levels. Just as we have acted on literacy and numeracy and standards have improved; just as we have acted on crumbling schools, which are being repaired, so we have acted on teacher recruitment.

Over three years, almost £200 million has been invested in teacher recruitment. There were no golden hellos under the previous Government, and there was no training salary. Tonight's debate has shown that there would be no training salary if the Tories ever returned to government. The Conservative Government provided no incentive for returners to the profession, no well-funded employment route into teaching, and no training for those who wanted to teach but did not have the subject qualification. They had a one-club approach: wait for the recession and teacher recruitment will improve. Teaching

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is more important than that. It is one of the most vital professions in the country. We cannot expect recruitment in teaching to improve only when the economic cycle is in decline.

The measures that we have put in place over the past three years are beginning to bear fruit. Since 1998, applications to secondary postgraduate courses have increased by 14 per cent. That is more than 2,500 extra graduates. There are an extra 500 for maths and an extra 850 for science. Since the beginning of training salaries at the start of April, applications for maths and science have increased. Applications for technology have increased by 23 per cent. and those for modern foreign languages by 20 per cent. Applications for secondary places, where traditionally there has been difficulty in recruitment, have increased by 45 per cent. compared with the same period last year.

For the first time, the Government have broken the link between recruitment and the economic cycle. We are the first Government who have managed to recruit more people, to have increased applications, to have increased acceptances and to have increased staff in the shortage subjects without attaching these achievements to an economic slump. That is the key point, and it is the great achievement of the past three years.

Mr. Clappison: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ms Morris: I will, if the intervention is very short.

Mr. Clappison: The right hon. Lady's case is that the problems were all at the end of the previous Government's term of office and that her policies have turned things round. Was graduate recruitment to secondary education higher or lower in 1997 than it is now?

Ms Morris: In 1989, it was low. In 1992-93 it increased. There was then a gradual decline. The hon. Gentleman has picked 1997, but recruitment was in decline from 1993 onwards. There was then economic recession and high teacher recruitment. Never once after 1997 did teacher recruitment increase. The first time that it increased after 1997 was last year, after the Government had taken a range of measures to improve teacher recruitment.

I agree with many Members that the issue is not only about money going into teacher recruitment. It is also about money for teacher retention and about all the other things that make the job worth doing. It is about making sure that teachers have places where children who do not behave and ruin other children's life chances of learning can be sent so as to free them to get on with teaching the rest of the school. It is about smaller classes. To take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), it is also about classroom assistants, which all primary schools have. Twenty thousand new classroom assistants are going into classes to help teachers and to make life easier for them. It is about the extra money that has gone to small schools so that they can employ staff to help them with their administration. It is also about creating an environment where teachers want to stay when they have completed their training and get into the classroom.

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It is not only the Government who have responsibility for recruiting and ensuring that people stay in teaching. Every Member has a responsibility, as has every teacher who makes a recommendation to his or her sixth forms as to what to do thereafter. Every parent who talks to his or her child about worthwhile jobs in society also has a responsibility. My disappointment is that yet again, when the Tories have had a chance to bring the debate on education to the Floor of the Chamber, they have chosen to carp. Over the past three years they have used every chance available to them to knock the literacy strategy, to knock the numeracy strategy, to get rid of excellence in cities and to get rid of education action zones. Today, joining on all that, they wish to get rid of training salaries. It is about time that the hon. Member for Maidenhead took on her responsibility to support the profession and used her time in the House to talk about the achievements of teachers. She should take every opportunity to celebrate their success. It is an honourable profession, and one of the best. It is more exciting to go into the teaching profession today than it has ever been. We should all appeal to young and not-so-young people to join the 400,000 teachers in schools today who do an excellent job and who, over the years, will be joined by many more who will work with them to raise standards for students.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:--

The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 353.

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