Previous SectionIndexHome Page

3.40 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): It is a great pleasure to be able to respond to an excellent short debate, which has taken place only because of the Conservative Opposition, who have again highlighted an extremely important issue for parents, schools and children throughout the country.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis)--who has had to leave early--spoke at length and blamed everybody, in characteristic fashion. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman)--who is no longer in his place--rightly described the Secretary of State's speech as mercifully brief, before going on to make a courageous attack on the Barnett formula, thus starting the election campaign in Scotland a little early.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) made the point that Ministers have not yet replied to letters received from a school in his constituency, which were sent in September and October. [Interruption.] The Minister for School Standards seems to suggest that she wants to blame her officials for that, rather than take the rap herself. That is typical of Ministers in this Government, but she really ought to understand that it is the responsibility of Ministers to ensure that those things are done. The school in question is now out of special measures, but perhaps the Department for Education and Employment should be put into special measures to put right its failures.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) made a thoughtful speech. Sadly, I do not have time to deal with the interesting and intelligent points that he made, but I particularly enjoyed his tour of Jim Callaghan's secret garden. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) reminded the House in a timely manner that there is a serious problem in education nationwide, and it was important that he did so, particularly as the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) then returned us to the shocking complacency that has been characteristic of the Government's response on this serious crisis. Labour Members can be complacent if they wish, but

18 Jan 2001 : Column 563

when David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers says that teacher recruitment is "approaching meltdown", serious commentators and observers in the House and elsewhere know that there is a serious problem.

The Secretary of State claims that there are more teachers, but he does not say how many are part time, or supply teachers. He does not say how many come from overseas, or are not of qualified teacher status. The breathtaking complacency of his speech was backed up by the contributions from Labour Members, while my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), the shadow Secretary of State, was speaking. At that point, the only thing that Labour Members had to say was, "What would you do?" It became painfully obvious that hon. Members on the Government Benches were devoid of ideas. They have had four years in which they have generated this problem and made it worse. Now, all that they can do is ask us what we would do in their place.

The Secretary of State generously accepted a policy suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, and it is welcome and right that he should do so. Why does he not let us put all our policy recommendations into practice? Let us cut out the middleman and solve all Labour's problems.

The Secretary of State unwisely used the metaphor of the highwayman. In fact, the highwayman is Labour's Chancellor of the Exchequer, who takes our tax but delivers no teachers. [Interruption.] I am grateful to the hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg) for his applause. The Secretary of State spoke of reduced class sizes leading to rising demand for teachers. However, he did not explain that class sizes are going up in primary schools, secondary schools and reception classes. Even the 30-in-a-class limit that the Government pledged is, according to the January-February issue of The Teacher magazine, now under threat because of the Government's failures in teacher recruitment. The Government really ought to start taking this problem seriously, but the Secretary of State showed no signs of doing so.

The Secretary of State spoke of the weeks that it takes to process applications, but he has had four years in office, and he must now take responsibility for the crisis that is evident in the nation's schools. We have had nothing from the Government apart from gimmicks, new schemes and new initiatives. The hon. Member for Huddersfield talked about Lord Puttnam's staff room of the future, which he said had never emerged.

Mr. Sheerman: I did not say that.

Mr. Brady: I think the record will demonstrate that he did.

Earlier in this Parliament, the Government pledged that people on the new deal were going to be brought into the classrooms to work as classroom assistants. In 1998, the Government trumpeted a trial that was to be run in two areas of Wales--Cardiff and, I think, Wrexham--to see how many unemployed people could be brought in through the new deal to work as classroom assistants in Wales. However, a few weeks ago, when I asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many classroom assistants had been brought into schools under the new deal, I was told that information on the destination of new deal participants was not collected at that level of detail. The proposal was just another gimmick, another initiative not followed up, that did not help our schools.

18 Jan 2001 : Column 564

Education action zones were an experiment but, according to The Times Educational Supplement, the existing 73 are now being quietly halted.

Ms Estelle Morris: Wrong.

Mr. Brady: The Minister says that I am wrong, but the Government did not bother to dispute that at the time.

The Secretary of State referred to the Teacher Training Agency hotline with glowing praise. That was one of the main fig-leaves that he clutched when trying to protect his failures in teacher recruitment. When I phoned the TTA hotline this morning, I received a response that might explain why there have been so many more calls to the line recently. When I dialled the number, I was told that all the consultants were engaged. The Secretary of State will say that that is positive, because the service is so popular. I was then asked whether I would like to be sent a brochure rather than wait to speak to somebody. I said, "No, I would like to speak to somebody." The person I was talking to asked whether I would like to enter the queueing system. I said, "Yes", whereupon I was told, "Good luck". [Interruption.] The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities is calling this a stunt. It was quite the reverse, because I went to the trouble of finding out what the Government are doing about teacher recruitment and I found the service to be an appalling failure. The hotline is the stunt. When I had waited for three minutes, I was cut off without any response. I can assure hon. Members that I was prepared to wait for longer.

The Secretary of State said that teachers should be left to teach, but he is on record as saying that teachers should become learning managers in charge of what are now being described as bodies being put in front of a class. The trouble with bringing unqualified teachers, or anyone who is able to fill the gap, into a classroom is that it does not deliver what parents or schools want, or what children need. Parents do not want learning managers; they want teachers. Teachers do not want to be learning managers. They want respect for their professionalism, and the space to be allowed to teach.

Nigel de Gruchy of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers--a body that the Secretary of State now appears to hold in low esteem--has commented that

on teacher recruitment. He goes on to say that

[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, The hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), can chunter as much as she likes from the Government Front Bench. When her former friends in the teaching unions are now describing the Government's eduction policy as a "policy of despair", the Government really ought to take it seriously and consider where the problem lies.

The problem exists across the country. Positions are being filled by overseas teachers. Schools are being forced to recruit new teachers from Australia over the telephone. The press in my area--the Manchester Evening News--reports, under the headline "G'day Manchester", that an army of Australian teachers is being flown in to stop the recruitment crisis. Overseas teachers consider this country

18 Jan 2001 : Column 565

a base while they do Europe. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that that is good. It is good if they stay in the long term. It is good if they are sufficiently educated and sufficiently qualified and if they know the ways of the British education system. It is not good, the Secretary of State should admit, if they have been brought here for a short period to fill a gap. It is not good--[Interruption.]

The Secretary of State can try to make a joke, but it is not good if Australian teachers or teachers from around the world come here in rapid succession and stay for just a term or a matter of weeks. Children will not have a teacher whom they can come to rely on. That is another part of the crisis, which is of his and Labour's making. We need free schools--schools with the freedom to run their own affairs and teachers who have the freedom to teach. All that the Government have to offer is bureaucracy, gimmicks and spin. It is time for a change.

Next Section

IndexHome Page