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Ms Ward: Every secondary school in my constituency received direct money from the Government around April each year, in some cases up to £60,000. Every primary school in my constituency received a direct grant. Many of them used that not just for additional items such as computers, but for important projects and extra classroom assistants. I do not understand why the schools in the hon. Gentleman's constituency should be any different from every other school in every other part of the country.

Mr. Willis: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting one of the problems that her Government have not dealt with. Schools in my constituency happen to be in North Yorkshire, one of the 40 worst-funded authorities in the country. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady sighs. I recognise that it is a tiresome point that we keep making, but schools in the poorest-funded authorities fare worse.

I recognise that that problem is historic and not particularly one of this Government's making, but they promised to solve it. There was a clear commitment

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before 1997 that a Labour Government would reform the standard spending assessment. That has not happened. One of the problems is the money that goes to schools in poorly funded local education authorities.

While the hon. Lady is in listening mode, I hope that she does not have any sixth forms in her constituency. If she does, she will suddenly find that they are being short-changed by a significant amount by this Government as a result of the sixth form funding guarantee.

Some hon. Members in the Chamber were on the Committee that considered the Bill—now the Learning and Skills Act 2000—that set up the Learning and Skills Council. We were given a guarantee that for the first two years there would be no difference in funding. What we find is that the funding for any additional students in any of those sixth forms is not £3,500 for a four AS plus three A2 package, which is the current average—not the highest or lowest—but £2,600. That is £900 less per student. That is not simply disingenuous, it is dishonest.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: Can the hon. Gentleman help me? I have listened carefully to his comments. Of course his support for many of the points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) is welcome, but it is notable that unlike on past occasions the Liberal Democrats have not tabled an amendment to the Conservative party's motion. Could he or the one other Liberal Democrat who is attending the debate shed light on whether that is because of incompetence, lack of care or because they agree with the motion and intend to vote with us? Possibly, consistent with Liberal Democrat policy, it is all three.

Mr. Willis: I shall come to Conservative policy in a second, but what my colleagues and I do with amendments is entirely up to us. At the end of the debate, the hon. Gentleman will see which way we vote.

I return to the funding of sixth forms and further education colleges, which is a serious point. We were also promised during the passage of the Learning and Skills Bill that funding for the FE sector would be levelled up so that it would no longer have to languish miles away. In fact, for that same four AS, three A2 package, for which colleges currently get an average of £3,030, from next April, they will get only £2,600, a drop of 14 per cent. in their core funding, as a result of the introduction of the new funding mechanism with the Learning and Skills Council. However that is dressed up, it is a real-terms decrease in the resources going into FE colleges.

The most serious point made by the hon. Member for Ashford, and the most serious accusation that we can level at the Government, is their failure to provide an adequate supply of teachers to our schools. In response, the Secretary of State made some clear points about what the Government have tried to do, but unless they can guarantee enough teachers of sufficient quality in our schools, the rest of their policy is of no consequence at all. Without the teachers, we have nothing.

The former Education Secretary, now Home Secretary, said in opposition:

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That was in The Independent on 1 September 1996. How right he was, but rather than doing something about the problem in his four years as Education Secretary, he lit the fuse to make it worse. Secondary vacancies have trebled under this Government, according to their own figures, not those of the National Union of Teachers, and primary vacancies have doubled.

There has been a 51 per cent. increase in the number of instructors, meaning that more children in our schools are being taught by unqualified staff, no matter how that is dressed up. There is now an army of supply teachers who keep our schools going in terms of bodies in front of children. In key subjects such as maths, despite the golden hellos, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of vacancies since 1997, which is a serious problem.

It is not surprising that we have a problem. There is low morale in our schools. Whether we like it or not, 2.5 million days were lost in teacher illness last year, often through stress and overwork. That has to be tackled. The NUT survey conducted by Professor Smithers and Dr. Robinson, which the Secretary of State frankly dismissed, is a damning piece of evidence. It shows that, last year, out of 100 final-year trainee teachers, 40 did not go into the classroom and a further 18 will leave within three years. The Government's own statistics show that in the past three years nearly 30 per cent. of newly qualified teachers had left their post by March of the first year of teaching.

We cannot afford that level of wastage when we are desperately short of professional staff. The Government need to do something about that. What is their response to the teacher shortage crisis? First, there is fast track. Let us have a group of super-teachers, they say, to be recruited and deployed by the Department: £9.2 million was poured into that scheme, to provide 111 teachers. How on earth can anyone justify using such resources to produce such a low output?

The targets for advanced level skills teachers were hopelessly missed, and those for initial teacher training have been missed every year since Labour came to power—to be fair, they were missed every year before that, too.

Most staggering of all, with shortages staring the Government in the face, they deliberately reduced the number of training places for postgraduates. That is how they have been able to manage the discrepancy. That is why the numbers between the targets and actual recruitment have started to narrow. In 1997-98, according to the Library, some 19,169 postgraduate places were available. By 2001, that had been reduced to 16,611. How can a Government serious about trying to recruit more teachers be prepared to contemplate a reduction in the number of postgraduate places available?

The undergraduate route into teaching is also being allowed to wither. We have seen a 25 per cent. fall in recruits in 1997. When the Minister responds to the debate, teacher recruitment and retention must be addressed up-front. We need answers on why the Government keep reducing targets while proclaiming a desperate need for teachers.

All that is depressing, but it would be wrong to accuse the Secretary of State, or her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), of not being committed to education and the education brief. No Member of Parliament who had seen them perform would

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do so. Indeed, I would be the first to admit that when the Government came into power in 1997 they were left with a daunting mountain to climb. I like Conservative Opposition day debates, because they are like reading an annual report from Hogwarts school—there is always a little something missing.

I have been reading the Conservatives' manifesto on education, produced for the general election, because I thought that it would be illuminating to find out what their policy was. The document starts with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) saying:

Let us remember that that was only five months ago. It was not an ambitious programme for under-fives, because they were not mentioned. That is 1.5 million children not involved in that ambition. The document contained no policies for young further education college students. Further education was not even mentioned in the document, even though it has become a big topic for debate today. That is a further 676,000 students ignored by the Conservatives. Adult learners did not fare much better, because they were not mentioned—another 1.9 million people not involved in the most ambitious Conservative programme for a generation. In fact, some 3.8 million individuals were ignored in that report from Hogwarts school—sorry, I mean from Conservative central office.

We should recognise that the Conservative party has had nothing to say on huge areas of the education service for the whole of the past four years and has said nothing today about what it would like to happen in future. Lifelong learning, which is part of the motion before us, was hardly mentioned at all by the hon. Member for Ashford, except in his attack on individual learning accounts. That is typical of the way in which the Conservative party has operated.

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