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Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. I feel that, across the whole labour

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market, women and men ought to have that opportunity. That is more of a challenge in teaching than in other areas because parents tend to want continuity, especially at primary level. If one were to stop 10 parents in the street and ask them whether, in order to give women the choice of part-time work, they would agree to their child having two teachers during the week rather than one, there would be a real debate. That is one of the extra demands that we must face when considering flexible working. Some 80 per cent. of the teaching work force are women, and it is the responsibility of the teaching profession—and my responsibility—to do what we can to offer that flexibility, but, at the same time, to try to make sure that we offer continuity, especially for little ones who are at school.

Mr. Green: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. Like her, I do not like intervening on Front-Bench speeches, but I am trying to prevent her from inadvertently misleading the House. She will be aware that literacy and numeracy hours were being piloted before 1997. Had they proved a success, a Conservative Government would no doubt have carried on with them. Therefore, the sharp line that she seeks to draw is simply not there.

Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman must face up to two facts. I do not believe that any Tory Government would have implemented a national strategy for literacy and numeracy; they would not have found the resources. He must also accept that, even if they had implemented the literacy and numeracy strategy nationally—that was not in the Conservative manifesto in 1997—it would have been centralist and prescriptive. They would also have had to send out reams of paper to schools. That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman has just told us that he would not do, so it is not unreasonable for me to assume that his only policy to aid the recruitment and retention of teachers is not to send out all the bits of paper that he referred to earlier. Let me tell him what those bits of paper are. They are the key stage 3 strategy, the literacy and numeracy strategies and the papers on performance management. He cannot have it both ways.

At first, developing the literacy and numeracy strategy meant being centralist and rather prescriptive and sending out paper, much of which was about extra funding. The strategy then became embedded and, having learned best practice, teachers were allowed to get on with it.

Mr. Levitt: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Estelle Morris: No. The House will agree that I am taking far too much time.

I want to touch on two further issues. The first is teachers' pay, which is the source of the present dispute in London. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Ashford say that he does not agree with teachers taking industrial action—or industrial action that damages children. However, if teachers do not do their job, that damages children. It seems from what he said last Thursday that he was bordering on supporting the NUT strike in London—so be it.

Let us consider what has happened to teachers' pay in London. In general, pay for good, experienced teachers has risen by 30 per cent. since 1997. However, a teacher in London in the second year of the profession will get a

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13.2 per cent. pay increase in September this year, because we have shortened the spine. Every teacher in London in the second year of the profession will get that rise, and it will not be spread over two years. Every teacher in London in the sixth year of the profession will get a 15 per cent. pay increase. By September, teachers who started teaching in London when we were elected in 1997 will earn 63 per cent. more than they did then.

Many teachers are worth their weight in gold, but in terms of delivering on public sector pay, we have rewarded them financially more than the Tories ever did. We have not staged pay increases; we have accepted every single recommendation of the STRB; we have introduced a threshold and we have seen a 30 per cent. pay increase over seven years. However, unlike any other serious pay increase in my memory of working in education, it has been accompanied by steady, sustained investment and a strong economy. Steady, sustained pay and investment in education have brought about current standards. That is what matters.

Mr. Chaytor: Are we not now discussing the bottom line to the debate about teaching recruitment and standards? Is it not a fact that, as the title of a Conservative website suggests, under the last Conservative Government, education spending was slashed year on year and as a proportion of GDP? Under this Government, has not spending increased in each of the past three years? However, does my right hon. Friend accept that some OECD countries, such as Finland and Canada, which perform better than we do have much higher education spending? Can she give a commitment that she will continue to push for higher levels in the United Kingdom as well?

Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend is right. Yes, other countries—strangely enough, some of them do not perform as well as we do—spend a higher percentage of their GDP on education. He will be aware of our manifesto commitment to increase investment in education year on year. He referred to the Tory years. The only time that the Tories increased education spending as a proportion of GDP was when GDP fell. The increase tended to be the result of poor outturns and poor productivity and not because the then Government decided to invest more out of generosity or a commitment to education.

I also wish to refer to pupil behaviour, which represents a real challenge not just to teachers, but to the whole of society. I tend to think that teachers reap the ill wind of the breakdown of discipline in many areas of our community and society. Some people do not give the issue much thought. We bemoan youth crime and the problem of drugs and their availability to young people, but those children end up in someone's classroom on Monday morning. That is the nature of the challenge facing schools, and we have to do all that we can to support teachers.

Although we have done a great deal, by no stretch of the imagination have we conquered the problem. In some schools, where the children suffer multiple forms of deprivation, are often subject to community and family breakdown and face the temptations of drugs being available on the streets in a way that they were not when

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we were young, and where there is huge family and pupil mobility, the challenge of getting behaviour right is more difficult than ever before. Our approach to the problem is to invest £600 million over three years on improving behaviour. That is why we have 1,000 learning support units and 1,500 learning mentors. That is why we have worked to ensure that excluded children no longer receive only two hours of education every week.

I will not accept from any Tory Member an assertion that before 1997 the Tory Government spent a penny farthing or expended an ounce of energy to support teachers in coping with problems of pupil behaviour. They did not. We have invested, and much of our investment has brought about good results, but we are not there yet—nowhere near. Ofsted has reminded us that although behaviour did not deteriorate this year, neither did it improve, and two years ago it declined. There is a real problem with no easy solutions. The Government have a responsibility, but so do mothers, fathers, families and community leaders.

Helen Jones: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way to improve pupil behaviour is to use more classroom assistants to support and assist teachers? Some of the work I saw last week in Dallam community primary school, which is in a deprived area of my constituency, shows what can be achieved when classroom assistants are involved in helping pupils to modify their behaviour and they take some of the burden off teachers.

Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend is, as ever, right. Adults with a range of skills are needed in schools, and that is precisely what the poster was about. Schools in our communities need good teachers and good leaders most of all, but if we can supplement them with learning mentors and other adults with a range of skills, we have a chance of conquering what is often a vast cycle of deprivation in some of our most disadvantaged communities.

The Government seek to be judged. We will be judged on whether our investment and policies lead to children in our schools achieving better exam results and emerging as more rounded citizens, ready to take their place in the world. I am immensely proud of our teachers and all those who work in our schools. Between 1998 and 2001, key stage 2 English results rose by 10 percentage points, maths by 12 percentage points, GCSE results by more than 2 percentage points, and A-levels by 16 percentage points, and the number of students leaving school with no GCSEs fell by half a percentage point. That achievement is in large part due to the hard, solid work of everyone who works in our schools, but the Government have played a key role in leadership, innovation, investment and support.

The Opposition may not want to believe me. Let them look at the reports by PISA—the programme for international student assessment—and Ofsted. We have better teachers, more satisfactory lessons taught and higher standards than ever before. Not only do we have the finest ever generation of teachers, but we now have an education system that is raising its sights and increasing its expectations. My vision is to have an education system that starts in the early years and runs

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throughout schooling so that children leave school committed to lifelong learning; a system that gives young people opportunities for further and higher education; a system in which everyone understands that it is both their right and their obligation to be committed to learning.

We have played a part. There is much of which are proud and much for which we are immensely thankful to those who work in our schools and education institutions. We know that we have not got there yet, but we have made progress from a very low starting point in 1997.

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