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Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and the fact that there is a future for education across the country. He is aware that, in mining areas, because of the previous Tory Government's pit closures, we are short of skills and skills training. How will the programme that he has announced today help us to meet the new economy's skills needs, particularly in mining areas?
Mr. Blunkett: The diversity that we are seeking at secondary level will not only build on the heritage and commitment to skills in those areas on which the United Kingdom relied economically and for jobs for 150 years, but redesign and regain the commitment to apprenticeship and vocational skills that has been lost in so many areas. Our combination of diversity, academic education and offering youngsters the ability to choose and choose again, so that they can develop themselves through lifelong learning--it is not a matter of "one chance and you're out"--will give children from the age of 14 the opportunity to sample different life opportunities; the ability to decide at that stage which route they wish to take; and the opportunity to be encouraged and enabled in new modern apprenticeships. That will make it possible for them to gain the types of skills on which their fathers and grandfathers relied.
Many of the Government's proposals, however, are muddled, ill thought out and lack reality. Margaret Thatcher was the Secretary of State who introduced the most comprehensive schools in Britain. The current Secretary of State will be remembered as the one who engineered and sounded the death knell of comprehensive education and the introduction of selection. If specialist schools are good enough for four out of 10 schools, why are they not good enough for all of them? Why is the Government's vision so narrow that six out of 10 schools have to comprise a second tier of schools in our system? If specialist schools have to select 10 per cent. of their pupils by aptitude or ability, why have 93 per cent. of existing specialist schools rejected that path? Why does the Secretary of State think that such selection will improve standards? I think that the whole House would like to hear that answer.
We welcome the Secretary of State's admission that there is a crisis not only in teacher recruitment but in teacher retention. However, the type of thinking that holds that money should be provided only for "shortage subjects", without even defining a shortage subject, is very muddled. Religious education is a national curriculum subject, but, in the past 15 years, the full quota of RE teachers--unlike the quota of biology teachers--has never been recruited. However, the debts of students who become biology teachers will be paid, whereas those of students who become RE teachers will not be paid. We therefore need to know how "shortage subject" will be defined and how the Secretary of State will apply the definition in giving those grants.
How will the Secretary of State tell teachers in a staff room--some of whom have had their debts paid off and others not--that we now have an equitable and fair teaching profession? Will he consider the Liberal Democrat proposal of a 100 per cent. training salary for teachers, so that everyone is treated fairly and is guaranteed a job for the first year?
Mr. Blunkett: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the welcome at the beginning of his remarks. I agree that the 14 to 19 age range is important, which is why the beginnings of programmes in the secondary school, pre-16 period will be carried forward post-16. That makes a lot of sense and we are working with further education colleges and others to achieve it.
The hon. Gentleman chides me about comprehensive education. It is important to spell out the fact that under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 specialist schools can choose, by aptitude, up to 10 per cent. of their pupils. Actually, the Act rules out any further selection by examination for all schools that do not already have it. The adjudicator has been taking appeals from parents in relation to those schools that did have partial selection. It is important that, in their coverage, the media understand what the law says and what is happening in schools.
I spelled out the specialisms where there are the greatest shortages at the moment. They are the ones, plus English, that have already had the golden hellos. The hon. Gentleman asked what people in a staff room will think when they find that some teachers in shortage subjects have had a golden hello for taking up teaching. I will tell him: they will think what a relief it is that they now have teachers to fill vacancies, lift the work load, teach the children and pick up the specialisms that were in short supply. That is why we are doing it.
Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): I welcome the sensible and non-dogmatic approach to delegating more autonomy to schools. In that respect, will my right hon. Friend say what steps are being taken to reduce the administrative and form-filling burden on teachers, started by the Conservative party?
Mr. Blunkett: Apart from completely revising the standards fund formula in terms of its allocation and monitoring, we have reduced the paperwork and administration by two thirds in secondary schools, and by 40 per cent. in primary schools last term. The latter figure was a result of our sending the schools a grammar guide, and I just wish that Opposition parties would follow through their logic. If we are to improve standards and teach phonics, spelling and decent grammar, we must do something about it besides eulogising. We are also putting in place a major reduction in data collection. We will reduce the amount that is asked of schools by other authorities, such as education authorities, Ofsted and the like. We will make sure that the monitoring panel that we have established in the Department does its job of telling us what is and what is not acceptable in schools.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): If the majority of secondary schools specialise and a minority do not, will it not be time for the Secretary of State to give up the pretence that he is running a comprehensive system? Could he say whether pupils in the remaining non-specialist schools are still entitled to opportunity for all?
Mr. Blunkett: We have specialist schools and beacon schools, which, incidentally, also have resources to use in spreading best practice. The new community beacons that I announced today will be a part of that.
We have schools where there are variations and which develop, because of the expertise of particular teachers, an ability to deliver to special needs pupils. Teachers with a particular talent offer after-school and lunchtime programmes in languages such as Greek, and spread those programmes between schools.
A comprehensive system, in my book, does not have some good schools in some leafy suburbs and second-rate schools in other areas served by those who have always had the lousiest deal. It has decent schools for every child, so that those living in the leafy suburbs might, just for once, want to send their children across cities, across
Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): I warmly welcome the extra boost announced today for teacher recruitment and retention. However, will my right hon. Friend say a little more about how he intends to help students already on BEd courses who, as he will be aware, feel that they have missed out on the very generous help being given for postgraduate one-year courses and who are looking for a bit of help from this?
Mr. Blunkett: If my hon. Friend looks at paragraph 12 of chapter 5, he will see listed a range of ways in which we might be able to help BEd and BA students who are taking undergraduate courses in education. The options on which I want to consult involve being able to pay students in their fourth year of a four-year course, reaching a point when they might be able to take up the induction year and therefore gain qualified teacher status. We are also looking at students taking up the equivalent of the graduate teacher programme in the fourth year, or taking sufficient modules during the four-year course to have reached the point in the fourth year at which they can take up QT status automatically--apologies to the Gallery, if anyone is still listening, for the jargon.