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Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): May I ask, as somebody who used to work for the Kenya Treasury in the years before it was looted by Arap Moi and his associates, why the Government are undermining the drive against corruption by exempting British businesses from the obligation to declare the identity of their commission agents and financial intermediaries when they apply for Export Credits Guarantee Department assistance and other assistance?

Hilary Benn: I do not know the answer to that question and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on it. All that I would say is that we have taken a number of steps to try to tackle the problem of corruption, including signing up to the UN convention, passing the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, making it an offence to offer a bribe—even if the offer is made abroad—and ensuring that, if evidence is brought forward, the person in question is prosecuted here in the UK. So we should recognise the steps that the Government have already taken, but as I said in answer to an earlier question, we will need to reflect further on whether additional steps need to be taken to ensure that we have the most effective means in place to enable the returning of any funds that are looted to the people from whom they have been stolen—namely, the people of Africa.
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Orders of the Day

Education Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

4.29 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When this Government took office in 1997, standards in our schools were too low. Almost half of primary schoolchildren left school not reaching the expected standards. Work force morale was disappointingly low, schools were starved of the investment that they needed to flourish, and the entire schools capital programme stood at less than £700 million. Teachers and children were expected to learn in schools that were literally falling apart at the seams.

Recognising the importance of education, the Government have worked with heads, governors and teacher unions to create a more stable system—a system in which standards are continuing to rise, we have a more diverse work force more suited to meeting the needs of our children, and resources have been put in to help meet those needs. Above all else, we aim for a system where every child is given the tools to reach their full potential at the earliest possible stage.

We took that challenge as our No. 1 priority, introducing the national literacy and numeracy strategies early in our first term of office. As a result, we have seen the first step change in primary standards for more than 50 years. About 78,000 more 11-year-olds left primary school last year having achieved the expected level for their age in reading and writing than did so in 1998. That means 78,000 more children given a greater chance of success at secondary school and beyond.

With the vital support and help of the majority of teacher associations, to which I pay tribute today, we established the national work load agreement. The sort of changes and standards that we want require the very best school work force—one that is better qualified and more flexible to meet the changing demands of children in schools. As a result, by January 2004, there were 28,500 more teachers in our schools and 105,000 extra support staff. We are rewarding success. The average classroom teacher's salary is more than 15 per cent. higher in real terms today than in 1997, and a top head teacher's pay more than one third higher. The chief inspector has now recognised that we have the best qualified work force that we have ever had.

Nor have we been complacent on investment. We have established the largest ever capital investment programme for our schools and will invest £17.5 billion in school buildings over the next three years, with the aim of transforming every secondary school in England. Investment in revenue has also risen dramatically. By 2005–06, our schools will have seen a £1,000 increase in funding per pupil in real terms since 1997.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): The Secretary of State says that £17.5 billion is being invested in secondary schools, so why has Northumberland county council, which has the problem of having to replace
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many secondary schools, been told that no more money will be available until 2014 at the earliest and 2020 at the latest?

Ruth Kelly: I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman accepts the case for investment in secondary school buildings, particularly in the light of the decades of neglect of investment in our secondary school system. The hon. Gentleman should reflect carefully on his policy of taking £1 billion out of the school system, and in respect of Northumberland county council, he should reflect on the fact that we are indeed introducing a staged 15-year programme to replace every secondary school in the country, or to refurbish it to world-class standards. That is our commitment and we will continue to see it through.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (Con): The Secretary of State has once again referred to the figure of £1 billion, which she alleges we are committed to taking out of the school system. Can she point to a single Conservative document or Conservative Front-Bench statement that justifies that figure?

Ruth Kelly: I am absolutely delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman seems to be backing away from his pupil passport policy. Perhaps it is not surprising that I have not heard that passport mentioned in recent policy debates, but if he would like to confirm that that is no longer Conservative party policy, I would be pleased to hear it.

Mr. Collins: The challenge, very specifically, was where the Secretary of State got the figure of £1 billion from. She made it up, did she not?

Ruth Kelly: I did not make the figure up. It is a figure that comes from the Centre for Policy Studies, and it relates to the impact that the pupil passport would have on the state school system, as the hon. Gentleman funds education for the elite few while taking funds away from the majority.

We have seen the results of our investment in schools and our reform of the secondary and primary school systems. Over the past eight years, there has been a 15 percentage point improvement in the number of pupils achieving expected standards for their age in key stage 2 English tests and a 12 percentage point improvement in mathematics. Our 10-year-olds are now the third best readers in the world. Since 1995, the standards in maths reached by our 10-year-olds have improved more than in any other country. Indeed, the chief inspector, David Bell, wrote in his annual report this year:

At secondary level, there are now fewer than 80 schools where less than 20 per cent. of pupils leave with five good GCSEs. When we took office, that number was nearly five times higher. The chief inspector says that parents can have more confidence in the education that their children receive than ever before.

How, then, does the Bill carry us forward? It introduces three-year budgets for schools, offering unparalleled financial stability and giving governors
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and heads the scope to plan ahead with greater certainty. It reforms the Teacher Training Agency, giving it responsibility for the continuing professional development of teachers and in the training and recruitment of support staff. The Bill also provides further opportunities for the National Assembly for Wales to build on its proposals, helping to take forward the Assembly's 10-year strategy for comprehensive education and lifelong learning. There are other important and valuable measures, too, which I commend to the House.

The fundamental reforms concern school inspection and school standards. The Bill transforms school inspection. We inherited a system in which a typical secondary school was inspected once every six years. With the Bill, that will be every three years. Schools now receive six weeks' notice of the inspector's visit. With the Bill, the school will receive next to no notice. Inspections will be "take us as you find us", rather than done when the coal has been whitewashed. A typical secondary inspection currently uses 50 inspector days. In future, inspection will use 24 inspector days, halving the cost and enabling Ofsted to reduce costs by £40 million.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): How does the Secretary of State regard that as providing more rigorous inspection?

Ruth Kelly: I shall come in due course to how schools will use the self-evaluation process and be monitored by Ofsted.

The new inspection regime will give a sharper picture of a school's effectiveness. It will start from the school's own evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses, look at the school's key systems for improvement and observe lessons. It will take into account the views of parents and all concerned with the school. It will produce shorter, more accessible inspection reports for parents.

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