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Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman's peroration went on to make the point that I wanted to raise.

My constituency of Slough provides a typical example of the improvement in standards that the hon. Gentleman describes. It has the most improved urban education authority in the country and standards for achievement at GCSE level have exceeded the national average for the first time. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that has been achieved at a time when the town has had difficulties in recruiting qualified teachers? Does he also agree that it is an example of how well and how hard our teachers have worked during that time? They and the children should be congratulated. If we can do that well at a time of recruitment difficulties--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Order.

Mr. Willis: I have got the point of the hon. Lady's peroration. I take every opportunity that I can to praise the teaching force across the country. Of course, there are examples of bad teaching and there are poor teachers, but teachers make up a work force of whom we should be proud. I send my hearty congratulations to the teachers in Slough on their efforts.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I agree entirely that good teaching contributes to raising standards. When teachers and children work well together, the best results are achieved. Although I agree that the majority of teachers are dedicated, committed, love their jobs and love children to succeed, does the hon. Gentleman not accept that leadership in schools is also vital? We must not overlook a growing concern. Many school governors now receive very few applicants from whom they can choose to provide the future leadership in their schools.

Mr. Willis: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. The public sector is no different from the private sector and leadership, wherever it occurs, is the absolute key to improving the standards of a teaching force. If there is one thing that I would take the Government to task for it is that over the past decade--and not just since 1997--head teachers, in particular, have been taken away from their core business to do other tasks at the periphery of leading a dynamic team in a school. That is sad. One of the sad aspects of the Tories' proposals for free schools is that managers would do even more bureaucratic work instead of leading their school communities.

In his latest report, Lord Woodhead of Smith Square said that 90 per cent. of schools had a higher proportion of good teaching than when they were previously inspected and that 70 per cent. of them had significantly improved their exam performance. I rest my case. Standards are not dropping as a result of the problems that

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schools face. We must recognise that teachers are making heroic efforts to maintain standards in very difficult circumstances.

One would expect a Labour Government who promised "education, education, education" to reward teachers for the efforts that they are making and their performance. Have they received better rewards and better conditions of services? The Times Educational Supplement said last week that 80 per cent. of teachers said that their job was more stressful under this Government than it was before. I find that hard to believe--I was incredibly stressed out by 1997. The survey found that 91 per cent. said that Government had failed to raise the status of teachers. Raising their status is crucial if we want to retain them. There is nothing worse for those who go to the pub on Friday night--I do not, because I do not drink--than to have people poke fun at them because they are teachers.

Mr. Hayes: They laugh at the hon. Gentleman because he is a Liberal.

Mr. Willis: I shall ignore the hon. Gentleman's sedentary intervention. It is important that we raise teachers' status.

One in 10 teachers questioned in the survey said that they had been assaulted, and that is a worrying statistic that must be tackled. Some 85 per cent. said that they were increasingly pressurised as a result of their job since 1997. Have the rewards increased because of the extra pressure, the extra work and teachers' extra productivity?

The Government say that 190,000 teachers will receive £2,000 more as a result of threshold payments. I welcome the extra money for teachers, but only 190,000 out of 500,000 will get it. The majority of the others will have only a 3.5 per cent. pay rise this year--40p a day for a cup of coffee is what most teachers will receive for all the efforts that they have put in. I defy the Minister to come to the ballot box--[Hon. Members: "Dispatch Box."] I am sorry; I have got elections on the mind. I defy the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box to say that such a pay rise is sufficient reward for the efforts that teachers have put in.

Turning now to head teachers--I declare an interest, in that I was a head--the Government are telling them that they do not trust their judgment on threshold assessments, so an external assessor must come to the school and if he does not agree with that judgment, he will make a decision over their head. Does that give head teachers the impression that we value them and their judgment? I urge the Minister to reconsider the issue of external assessors and to get rid of them, because they are an expensive nonsense. The Government should pay Cambridge Education Associates a small sum to go away and allow head teachers to get on with their job.

Mrs. May: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the Government's characteristics, which they display in their interference in the classroom, in their second- guessing of head teachers' judgment through external assessors, and in many other examples, is their complete and utter failure to trust teachers?

Mr. Willis: I certainly feel that there is a great desire to control everything in education from the centre, except in higher education, and that is a genuine failing on the

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part of the Government. If we have another Labour Government after 3 May, they must allow professionalism to triumph in education; otherwise we will simply have a technician service, and I do not think that anybody in the House wants that.

A person in my office calculated that a Railtrack employee would have received a bonus of about £6,500 for working over the Christmas period. It would take teachers, with their 3.5 per cent. pay rise, 10 years to make up that difference. That gives a sense of the imbalance in the rewards of teachers and others.

The McCrone report in Scotland was the equivalent of our Green Paper. We must remember that the Scottish Parliament has existed for a relatively short time, yet that report recognised that education was crucial and said that the Parliament wanted to back teachers to the hilt. Not only did it produce its own version of the Green Paper, but it set up partnership discussions with political parties, the Executive, local authorities and trade unions to hammer out an agreement for the future.

We must compare that with the way in which this Government dealt with their Green Paper. We never had a debate in the House about the Green Paper, about performance-related pay or about threshold assessments. The Government forced that policy through; they even forced it through the courts to make sure that it was implemented exactly as they wanted. That, too, is a massive failure.

The Scottish Executive have promised teachers a 21.5 per cent. pay increase over three years, giving certainty to schools and the profession. They have promised 4,000 more teachers to reduce class sizes throughout the education system, improved conditions of service, recognition of increased demands and a statutory right to support for professional development. None of those has been introduced by this Government under the policy of education, education, education, yet they are crucial to the teaching profession and for raising standards.

On threshold payments, the Minister is famous for saying to teachers, "We want something for something." I admire her enormously for the effort and energy that she puts into her brief, but telling teachers, after all that they have delivered, "You have to do more to get your threshold payments," sends out entirely the wrong message.

In Scotland, there is no performance-related pay, no payment by results and no bureaucratic threshold. There are no external assessors checking on head teachers and there is no denial of employment rights for part-time staff and those belonging to trade unions. What a difference devolution has made. What a contrast there is in Scotland now that Liberal Democrats are in government. [Interruption.] I thought the Minister would like that.

If we are to make a real impact on teacher shortages, the Government must recognise that they must have a new approach, and that pay and conditions of service matter. I do not accuse either the Secretary of State or the Minister of not wanting to improve standards or not wanting to support young people. I think that they do, but I believe that they have got a great deal wrong.

The Minister is right to say that bureaucracy is not only about paperwork. Most of the bureaucracy has come about through initiatives. My argument with the Minister is that we are having too many initiatives. If we want to reduce

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bureaucracy, we need to reduce significantly the number of initiatives and stop forcing schools to do things that they do not want to do.

Ofsted says that there is a problem at key stage 3. It has produced evidence that shows that there is some difficulty, especially with year seven, and a dip in performance. What do the Government do? Every school has to respond to a key stage 3 initiative, even though the Ofsted report has praised a school for its key stage 3 work. It might be poor in information and communications technology or in languages, but it has to have an incentive in respect of key stage 3.

Liberal Democrat Members have supported the idea of specialist schools. I have always supported the idea that every school in the land should be noted for a specialism. It is absurd that when the 30 per cent. quota with the local education authority is reached, it is not possible to have any more specialist schools. Surely they are either a good thing or a bad thing. Either they are worth having, or they are not. The Minister is right to say that they have shown improved examination results and less truancy. That being so, we should try to extend them to cover every school.

When the Minister replies, I ask her to explain why we are not recognising community schools in London and in our other large cities as specialist schools. These are schools that offer a range of provision that embeds itself in the community. Why is that not a specialism? Why are we not having ethnic language specialist schools? Why are European languages the only yardstick for language schools? That is insulting in areas such as Bradford, for example, where there is a huge ethnic minority population. We should cherish and celebrate the languages of that minority.

In rural areas, there is often only one school. Why cannot it be a specialist rural school so that it is celebrated in that way? We must consider other ways in which we can support schools.

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