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Mr. Gray: Will the Secretary of State give way?
Estelle Morris: As the hon. Gentleman is incredibly calm, I shall take an intervention from him.
Mr. Gray: I shall remain incredibly calm, despite the right hon. Lady's speech. She talks sensibly of the very high quality of young teachers, and we on the Conservative Benches of course entirely agree with her, but she seems a little complacent about morale in the teaching profession. How does she react to the headline in The Times Educational Supplement, no less, which reads: "Labour fails to stem the exodus of teachers"? Does she agree with that?
Estelle Morris: For a headline in The Times Educational Supplement, that is par for the coursealthough I suppose that that is a different problem.
I thought that I had made the position clear. We have done more than any Government on recruitment. I know that we have more to do on retention, but we cannot keep teachers until we have them in the first place. When recruitment was a problem, I answeredI thinkthree Adjournment debates on the failure to recruit to the
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what I think about teacher moraleand it is borne out by what people tell me when I go into schools. It presents a real challenge. When we question teachers on many of the initiatives that we have introduced, they say that they are good and that they work. They say that the literacy and numeracy strategies and booster classes work, but that in order to manage their jobs and to meet the requirements of those good initiatives, they need more support. That is why we have provided more classroom assistants and support for teachers.
Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Will the Secretary of State give way?
Estelle Morris: No, I want to turn to individual learning accounts.
I want to go through what I see as the order of events concerning ILAs. It is important to put on record exactly what has been happening, to offer reassurance where possible and to explain where there has been misleading information, let alone misleading selling. I return to why ILAs were launched. Let us remember that individual learning accounts were designed to attract people back to learning. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) has always claimed that as a Lib Dem policy. No comment. Many of the people whom we were trying to attract back to learning had left learning at the age of 14 or 15 and never been back. Their memory of learning was of failure, low esteem, and getting nothing out of it. They did not feel that learning was for them.
Whatever previous Governments did in that regardthe previous Government did not do muchdid not work for such people. They did not go back to learning. They now work in a labour market where skills are crucial and learning is necessary, even if one has not done it for 30 years.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): Will the Secretary of State give way?
Estelle Morris: No, I must make progress, but I shall take interventions after my comments on ILAs. For all the best motives, we set out to design a system that was user-friendly, did not entail too much bureaucracy, did not involve sheaves and sheaves of paper and was not difficult for users or providers to access. ILAs were launched in September 2000. Within a year, by July 2001, we had 1.5 million account holders, far exceeding our expectations. We expected to have reached that figure a year later.
Of those 1.5 million account holders, we received complaints from 0.19 per cent. Investigation showed that a minority of those complaints were about non-compliance. Every one of the complaints received by the Department in the first 10 months of operation was looked into. During that time, one company was subject to a formal departmental investigation. In that case, no fraud was found to have taken place. In January this year, we set up a learning provider support unit in the Department, which had the job of looking into complaints
Estelle Morris: I must correct the hon. Gentleman. The figure at that point was 3,000.
Estelle Morris: I will take interventions in a while.
At the end of July we noticed, because we collect the figures, a small increase in the number of complaints. As a result, we carried out a full re-registration process, which began at the start of July and was completed at the end of July this year. Far from failing to act in July, that is what we did because of the slight increase at the end of that 10-month period. As a result of the re-registration process, 700 providers lost their registration.
Over the next two months, which takes us into September, the number of complaints increased to 0.25 per cent. of 2.3 million learners. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has the correct figure for that. More accounts were opened, and complaints were received from 0.25 per cent. of account holders. Again, we took action. We established a compliance unit with Capita, which worked closely with us on the matter. I am grateful to those involved. They are our delivery partner. The unit started work on 24 September this year, because of the increase in complaints from 0.19 per cent. to 0.25 per cent. between July and September. That gave us an additional resource to investigate the complaints.
During September we decided to withdraw all non-personalised application forms, which is where we believed some of the abuse and mis-selling had taken place. Individuals could apply for their ILA only by contacting the ILA centre directly or through the ILA website. That took effect on 28 September. At the same time, we suspended the registration of all new providers, so that we could introduce a more robust registration procedure. In October the number of complaints was 8,000 or 0.35 per cent. of 2.5 million account holders. Over that three-month period, the number of accounts grew from 1.25 or 1.5 million back in July to 2.5 million in October 2001. That far exceeded our expectations about the amount of subsidy that the Government would pay and the number of account holders.
We took action in July, monitored it and took further action in September. However, by October, there was another increase in complaints and an unusually high number of accounts had been opened. Consequently, we decided to withdraw individual learning accounts. The announcement was made to the House on 24 October. Since then, we have written to all account holders and providers to inform them of our decision. People who already hold ILAs have until 7 Decembersix weeksto use them, but we shall not register new providers.
Mr. Willis: Will the Secretary of State give way?
Estelle Morris: Before I do that, I want to give some more details of the 8,448 complaints. More than a quarter
Until now, police have brought charges against four providers and 30 individuals. Radio 5 and the Radio 4 "Today" programme stated that 279 cases were being investigated by the police. That is not true. An Opposition Member repeated that figure; I understand that, given that it was broadcast by the BBC. I believe that the BBC has subsequently withdrawn the figure. I repeat that the police are investigating four providers and 30 individuals. I do not excuse what has happened; I do not like it, but it is important at the current stage in the development of adult learning and supporting adult education to put what has happened in perspective.
I want to put on record exactly what else has happened to the 2.5 million account holders. The ILA scheme is probably the biggest and, despite what has happened, the greatest success in getting adults back to learning. It is all right to hold a debate on collecting figures for mis-selling and abuse because that has occurred, and we have taken action at every stage. However, it is also worth talking about our evaluation evidence for what is working. Ninety-one per cent. of account holders say that ILAs have supported learning and fulfilled or exceeded their expectations; 84 per cent. believe that they helped to improve their knowledge and 59 per cent. feel that they helped them to become more confident.
There is nothing more serious than ensuring that we, as a Government and as a society, give every chance to people to return to learning, not only for skills but for leisure and fulfilment. The majority of people who have taken out ILAs experienced a quality of learning that exceeded their expectations. However, public expenditure must be as robust as possible and a good scheme must not be further damaged. I therefore believe that we took the right action in October. No one told us to do that; no outside body pulled us up but we monitored and investigated the complaints, kept track and tried to remedy the problems, and we made the decision that that was not enough and that we would withdraw the scheme. It was the right decision.
I give a cast-iron guarantee that we will build on the huge success of ILAs in the next few months and ensure that further plans for progress on adult learning will take the best from the best scheme that has ever existed, but also remedy its shortcomings.