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The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): Will the hon. Lady confirm for the House and for those interested whose definition that was? I have replied to the director, and presumably through him to his chairman at Essex, pointing out that that is exactly the same definition as that applied by the previous Government.

Mrs. May: If the Secretary of State thinks that it is the wrong definition, why has he not changed it in four years? The answer is that he has not changed it and his official figures do not show the true extent of the problem faced by schools up and down the country. The head teacher of Great Totham primary school in Essex told my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) that

When Edmund Burke talked of lies, damned lies and statistics, I can only assume that he was thinking of a future Department for Education and Employment.

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Instead of learning lessons from the statistics, the right hon. Gentleman is intent on spinning them. Last week he rubbished figures from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry.

Mr. Blunkett: I was right.

Mrs. May: The right hon. Gentleman says that he was right. This week he has leapt on statistics that show a small increase in the number of applicants. What do those figures reveal? They show a decline in applications for the subjects that are currently desperately short of teachers: mathematics down almost 4 per cent., English down 2 per cent., French down more than 9 per cent. and history down 7.3 per cent.--a rather more worrying figure, given the number of children who, according to a report this morning, do not know who Winston Churchill was. That is the true picture behind the right hon. Gentleman's spin.

Overall figures show a fall on the numbers recorded four years ago. The latest figures for recruits to initial secondary teacher training courses show that over the past four years the number of recruits is down by 1,000.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): The hon. Lady is giving very much the same speech as was given before Christmas. What proposals does the Conservative party have to resolve this crisis?

Mrs. May: I shall come on to that point. It is fascinating that when the hon. Gentleman discusses education in the House, he does not want to talk about the teacher shortages created by the Labour Government. His friends on the Labour Benches are doing what he wants, but it is time he considered the situation in our schools, which I am describing for his benefit as well as for that of those on the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Scottish Executive has recently given Scottish teachers a 21.5 per cent. increase in salary? That will provoke a recruitment and retention crisis in Northumberland schools, because the difference in salaries on either side of the border will be immense. Northumberland county council will be unable to match such increases because its education authority is among the worst funded in the country--indeed, as far as secondary school pupils are concerned, it receives the lowest funding--and the schools are already having to cope with a £1 million cut in their budgets. The promise of "education, education, education" is wearing very thin in Northumberland.

Mrs. May: It is obvious from what my hon. Friend has said that, far from "education, education, education", Northumberland has cuts, shortages and shortages, and that its children are suffering as a result of the actions of this Government and of the Labour-controlled county council. Our proposals for a national funding formula will help to even out the discrepancies, and to improve the situation of those authorities that suffer from such differences in spending on their children.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May: No, I want to make some progress.

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The Government have told us that there is not a crisis, because the number of people registering an interest in going into teacher training has been going up. That is all very well, but it does nothing to tackle the problems faced by schools today. Perhaps the Government should consider the evidence of the latest Smithers report, published in December, entitled "Attracting Teachers", and the survey conducted recently by the National Union of Teachers. They show that, of those training to be teachers, some 10 per cent. fail to qualify. Nearly 30 per cent. of those who qualify do not go into teaching, and 7 per cent. of those who go into teaching drop out in the first year. Of every 100 people training to be a teacher, only just over half will go into the classroom for more than a year. An increase in people registering an interest is not going to solve the problem that our schools face today, tomorrow or in the months to come.

There is a crisis now, the situation is worsening and we have nothing but spin and complacency from the Government. The result of the Government's inactivity is plain to see. Schools across the country are in crisis, with head teachers and their staff fighting valiantly to ensure that the damage to our children's education is minimal. The fact that many schools have avoided switching to a four-day week, or worse, is a tribute not to the Government--whose incompetence put the schools in this position in the first place--but to the heroic efforts of the teaching profession.

The head teacher of St. Mary's high school in Cheshunt had faced circumstances in which a third of her pupils were having to lose out on lessons and go home early. She wrote yesterday:

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, and she also said:

We all agree with the thanks that she has given.

Mrs. May: We do, indeed, note the thanks that the head teacher has given. I am sorry that the Secretary of State had to intervene, because I was making the simple point that the teachers are the ones who have borne the brunt of the problem, not the bureaucrats. The teachers are the ones who have to deal with the crisis on a day-to-day basis in the schools, with the children in their classrooms.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons teachers have been flocking out of the profession in recent years is that, too often, the role of teacher has involved an exercise in crowd control? Does she also agree that the Government's guidelines on the legitimate use of physical restraint by teachers when dealing with recalcitrant pupils should reflect the common-sense instincts of the majority of the British people, and not the politically correct prejudices of the liberal establishment?

Mrs. May: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the politically correct prejudices of the liberal

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establishment have had a damaging effect on discipline in our schools. That is one of the key issues that teachers cite when they leave the profession.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): The problems experienced by the school in Cheshunt are part of a wider problem affecting Hertfordshire. It is even affecting some of the leading state schools in the county and, indeed, the country, such as Watford grammar school for boys, whose headmaster has said:

The situation in Hertfordshire is extremely serious.

Mrs. May: My hon. Friend has illustrated the reality. However, this is a serious problem not just in Hertfordshire but throughout the country. When I was in Cumbria recently, I heard from teachers there about the problems they were experiencing in filling vacancies.

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): May I ask a simple question? What is the hon. Lady's solution to the problem?

Mrs. May: I understand why the hon. Gentleman does not want to hear about the problems that his Government have created, but he is going to have to hear about them.

Mr. Twigg: What will you do?

Mrs. May: I will tell the hon. Gentleman what we will do in due course, but first he must hear about the problems caused by his Government's policy. Let me tell him that when he goes on the electoral stump--

Mr. Twigg rose--

Mrs. May: I am answering the hon. Gentleman's question. Let me tell him that when he knocks on those doors, people will not ask him what the Conservatives propose. They will say "We pay the tax; where are the teachers?"

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