Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have had the Wildcat Corporation working with us. We have been engaged in ensuring that we use the expertise and the will of employers, 80,000 of whom have signed up to the new deal. On the US-wide scheme, I think that 20,000 employers have signed up. We have been examining with the Wildcat Corporation, as we do with employment zones, how we can use the flexibility of resources more effectively--we shall do this under new deal mark 2--to ensure that we tackle the most serious disadvantage. That can never be done by merely stuffing people into a job without social or educational support.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Employment Sub-Committee, of which the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) is

8 Dec 2000 : Column 255

a member, has visited the Wildcat Corporation both in New York and, recently, in this country, as part of a programme of examining intermediary programmes that can assist us in developing the new deal? I thought that Conservative Members would know that and would understand that we are using that experience in this country.

Mr. Blunkett: Yes. The experience of hundreds of youngsters who have been placed in long-term jobs and supported in New York is interesting, but it is not the alternative to about 550,000 youngsters entering a new deal programme because they have been unemployed for six months or more, with 254,520 getting jobs. We have been helping those who needed minimal help and supporting those who needed a lot of help, and we are rejoicing in those who obtained a job faster than would otherwise have been the case and in those who got a job only because of the new deal programme.

I shall reflect on the wonderful calculations that the Opposition apply to education. We are not entirely certain how much the Opposition feel that they could take out of general budgets to switch into schools. It is between £3.4 billion and £4 billion, except that £1 billion has already been switched and is being delegated this coming year. However, we are certain that some of the facts are astonishing.

Conservative Members appear to feel that they can impose on head teachers additional burdens and administration while criticising the Government's plans for administration. The Conservatives' proposals to switch transport costs would mean asking head teachers to become bus drivers--that is, they would have to get the children to school as well as teach them when they got there. The Conservatives would place arrangements in the hands of individual schools rather than setting up co-ordinated contracts to get children to school. One must also bear in mind that half the money spent in that way is spent on special needs education. One would be in real trouble if one told schools that they had to organise their own insurance--even though they wanted to collaborate and arrange that through local authorities--especially if that meant dealing with special needs education in a way that would ensure no co-ordination on placement or admissions. I look forward to hearing the hon. Lady's explanation for that.

Mrs. May: The Secretary of State referred to head teachers becoming bus drivers. Does he accept that head teachers are doing exactly that? A head teacher has left the profession to become a chauffeur, and another has left to become a lorry driver. The imposition of bureaucratic burdens by the Government makes teaching a job that people no longer want to do.

Mr. Blunkett: I was not sure whether the hon. Lady was advocating that head teachers should become bus drivers, or bemoaning the fact that they have done so. My point was that she would be forcing them to do that job as well as that of head teacher. That would be the inevitable consequence of her proposals.

There is an interesting figure in the Conservative party's litany of items that it would chop out of what it describes as non-essential budgets. Conservative Members might like to reflect on this figure over the next few weeks, because I want to help them to have a sensible debate in the run-up to the general election, whenever it comes. They appear to have forgotten the £300 million that is paid out not to state

8 Dec 2000 : Column 256

schools, or to specific local authority functions such as educational psychologists, but to non-maintained special schools in the voluntary and private sector. That is £300 million that the Conservatives have counted in their savings in the distribution to the state system.

Never mind the maths hour--or 55 minutes, or whatever it might be--I would like the hon. Lady to do her sums again. When she has done them, she should hold a press conference and spell out to the world the reason why Her Majesty's Opposition simply could not add up. [Interruption.] Would the hon. Lady like to intervene again? This is the countdown to the next general election.

I shall say a little more on special needs. On Wednesday, we announced that we would legislate. Today, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill is in the public arena. We shall ensure that there are new rights for parents and children, and that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 will now include the rights that were denied to those taking up education. We shall ensure that we get the balance right between support for inclusion and specialist provision where it is needed, so that we tailor special needs support precisely to the requirements of the child. We shall spell out in the next week or two, on Second Reading in the House of Lords, the fact that we shall ensure that no one need fear any change in the code of practice in terms of the rights that currently exist on statementing.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): What my right hon. Friend has said is excellent. Would he perhaps go a step further when envisaging the approach to special educational needs and embrace advocacy? That is becoming extremely important and it ought also to apply to education.

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I would be happy to examine how advocacy could be developed in terms of parental and family rights. We are keen that an advocate should be available at local level for parents. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) knows--he has done an enormous amount of work on this subject, for which we are all grateful--that some very good experiments have been undertaken. Our task is to get this right. We shall obviously be able to debate the subject at length when it comes before the House.

I want to ensure that, if we disagree on the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill, we disagree about matters about which we are genuinely at loggerheads. This is an important Bill. There is too little public debate on the issue, but it is profoundly important to millions of young people and their families across the country. I shall be happy to listen and respond to the Opposition parties on the issue.

We want to ensure that whenever there is a problem, we shall tackle it; that whenever support is required, it will be available; that resources are put in place on a sensible basis at a local level so that people can do the job in the classroom; that we break down bureaucracy; ensure that teachers can do their job more effectively; and increase the morale and motivation of the profession. To achieve that, we shall continue to broaden people's horizons, to rejoice in the improvements that have taken place, and to shout about what a wonderful profession the education system offers. That means rejoicing when there is an improvement in recruitment, such as the 8 per cent. increase this year, which represents an extra 2,000 teachers. There are not more teachers leaving than entering the profession, as there were in 1997 on the back of the pension changes that the previous Government introduced.

There are challenges ahead. The recruitment campaign for next year will begin at the beginning of the year, as we recruit graduates. We shall want those who use graduate

8 Dec 2000 : Column 257

figures to include the new graduate training programme, which they do not do at present, so that we get this right. The new programme is very popular and successful.

Above all, we want to get a message across. We are linking what we are doing in the earliest years--sure start, child care and nursery provision--with lower class sizes and successes in literacy and numeracy at primary level. That needs to be carried forward into the secondary sector to offer real opportunity and equality. That will ensure that the investment that we are making in further education and skilling contributes to the continuing success of our economy, the growth that comes with low unemployment and the stability that comes with low inflation. We want to do that in an environment in which we contribute to people getting and holding a job, but having the skills available to be flexible and adaptable enough to be able to move within the economy in a way that will ensure success for the future.

That is a challenge on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I work closely together. Enterprise and innovation, underpinned by the skills and the knowledge economy of the future, will ensure that we get it right for everyone, wherever they are.

10.8 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): The Secretary of State brightened up my Friday morning when he informed me that I have been mentioned on "The Westminster Hour" Christmas quiz. I can think of several possible questions that could have been asked about me, perhaps on namesakes or shoes. If they were on some other subject, I would say to the Secretary of State that I am willing to spend some time this Christmas with my dictionary, if the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will spend some time this Christmas doing his tables.

The Government came to power claiming that their No. 1 priority was education, education, education. They still proclaim education as their priority today. Indeed, words on education made up about 10 per cent. of the Gracious Speech. However, far from setting education at the centre of the Government's programme, far from lifting the bureaucratic burdens on our teachers, far from meeting the needs of schools faced with teacher vacancies and with no hope of filling them, far from addressing the growing damage to standards resulting from the Government's policies, far from lifting the Government's constant interference in our classrooms, far from trusting the teachers and helping the head teachers deal with disruptive pupils, the Queen's Speech clearly showed that, on education, this is a Government who have run out of steam, are bereft of ideas and have nothing to offer the majority of parents or teachers. That was also clear from the Secretary of State's speech.

Where are the measures to reduce the mountain of paperwork that teachers have to deal with day in and day out? Where are the measures to give teachers the time to get on with the job of teaching children? They need to be able to inspire young minds by lighting that spark of interest--by creating a thirst for knowledge--which will last throughout children's lives and enable them to develop a truly fulfilling life.

Next Section

IndexHome Page