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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, while supporting Russian children's charities, will they also consider supporting one of the most important children's charities in Bulgaria, the Free and Democratic Bulgaria Foundation, which works with the British charity, Childhope? One of its main aims is to deal with the world-wide problem of street and vulnerable children. Can the Minister assure the House that essential basic support will be given to this worthwhile charity, which is vital as Bulgaria works towards European Union membership?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that we have very clear criteria against which we make decisions about which charities we will fund. I am unable to respond in respect of one specific charity, but I will take that question away and write to the noble Baroness. We are funding a range of NGOs working with children across the European Union as well as in Russia.

Lord Laming: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the work of the Russian European Trust? It is supported both by DfID and the task programme of the European Union which is trying to set up social care services across Russia in order, apart from anything else, to try to halt the decline in life expectancy in that country.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of the work of the trust. One of the areas at which the department is looking in detail is the social fabric in Russia and ways in which we can help to sustain the systems of social services and social care.

Teacher Shortages

3.11 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, in January there were more teachers in maintained schools in England than at any time for a decade. Over 99 per cent of posts were filled. The latest evidence suggests that this remains the position. New funding is helping to maintain recruitment. In this financial year this includes £70 million to encourage more graduates to train as teachers by means of the training salaries, £4 million to improve teacher recruitment in London, and encouraging trained teachers to return to the profession.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply and am glad that she has stressed that there has been an increase in the number of teachers, but they are mainly in primary schools, not in secondary schools. Is she aware of the fact that the average size of class in secondary schools has increased over the past three years; and that in a number of subjects, particularly mathematics and science, there is an acute shortage of teachers and many classes are being taught by non-specialists? Is she further aware that teacher training colleges for secondary school posts are 1,500 people short of their targets for this year? Is the Minister conscious of the real crisis in a number of these areas? Does she feel that the department is doing enough to meet that crisis?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I think it is a little exaggerated to describe the overall national picture as a "crisis". The Government accept that there are some parts of the country--London is the most notable example--where there are severe shortages, particularly in certain subjects in secondary schools. As a result of the Government's intervention, there has been a big increase this year in the number of teachers applying to work in secondary schools in the shortage subjects just mentioned--mathematics and science--and an even bigger increase in the number of both young and mature people coming forward to teach technology where there was also a serious shortage.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Minister has ignored the number of schools now operating a four-day week, depriving children of 20 per cent of their education. I wonder why the noble Baroness made no reference to that.

Can the noble Baroness comment on the massive recruitment programme in other countries for teachers for our secondary schools? What is being done to ensure that such teachers are entirely familiar with the structure of education in this country, with the national curriculum and with the particular schools in which they will work? What is the formal arrangement for accepting them and for ensuring their competence in the classrooms of our secondary schools?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, only two schools are now teaching a four-day week, so it is important that we do not exaggerate the number. This compares quite favourably with the very large number of schools in the 1980s, especially in London, that were teaching

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a one and two-day week with some pupils being kept out of school for several weeks in a row. As soon as the Government heard about those two schools, they took action to intervene. We asked the Teacher Training Agency to provide additional support and worked with the LEAs to do the same. Perhaps it will reassure the noble Baroness to know that substantial numbers of teachers are now applying to teach in those schools and that the interviewing process is about to begin.

On the second question and overseas-trained teachers, it is important that where overseas-trained teachers are recruited they are properly prepared to work in our classrooms. There is a programme under way to ensure that that happens.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, the Government are to be congratulated on the new incentive payment of £6,000 that I am sure will be successful in enticing youngsters into the teaching profession. Will the Government keep this under review? It may be necessary to increase that payment at some time, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Is the Minister aware of the very warm welcome given to the 20,000 classroom assistants, a post for which the teaching profession has been asking for many years? However, will the Government think again about performance-related pay? Some of us think that it may cause some kind of disruption, which certainly would not help recruitment to the teaching profession.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I answer the last point first. The Government believe that performance-related pay will reward really high quality teachers in the classroom and will be beneficial to teacher supply in that it will keep more people in the profession and attract good graduates.

I am grateful to my noble friend for the welcome he has given to the increasing number of classroom assistants. Clearly, that is very important from the point of view of support to teachers. Classroom assistants facilitate their job and make it easier.

The Government will keep the training salaries under review. Although it is very early to assess their impact, there has been a very substantial increase in the number of applications as a result of the introduction of this change.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Government address the haemorrhaging of experienced teachers from the profession and the very worrying number of PGCE students who, despite the training salary, are leaving the course before the end?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the training salary was introduced only this year so I think it is rather early for the noble Baroness to suggest that people are leaving courses; they have been running for only two or three weeks. But the noble Baroness may have information that I do not have.

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On the wastage of teachers from the profession, it is important to do all that we can to try to retain teachers. Again, the statistics are good. In the latest year for which we have the figures--1998-99--there was a fall of 1.6 per cent in the number leaving the profession. It is normally between six and eight per cent, so that is a substantial drop.

Freedom of Information Bill

3.19 p.m.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not want to make a habit of this but, like the political parties Bill, the way the Government have dealt with this Bill is entirely unsatisfactory. I wonder whether the Government should not reconsider their decision to start the Committee stage today and leave the Bill to a later date when they might, with a bit of luck, get it right. They could do so because clearly there is no sense of urgency. This is the first day in Committee; the Second Reading took place on Maundy Thursday. In case noble Lords have forgotten when that was, it was 20th April. Urgency is not key to the Bill, so we could give the Government a little more time to get it right.

The Government tabled a series of amendments some time ago. Shortly afterwards they tabled another series of amendments and withdrew the original amendments. Noble Lords can imagine the confusion that that caused among those of us who are interested in the Bill. However, chaos broke out--this is the burden of my complaint--when the groupings list was produced last evening. I do not believe that any noble Lord will ever have seen so many errors. For example, Amendments Nos. 6 or 7 appeared after Amendments Nos. 26 and 27. Whole rafts of amendments were left out. It was a shambles. It took staff at the Home Office all morning to try to sort it out. They still have not sorted it out. I shall explain the details later if we go ahead with the Bill. That will be a little treat for the Minister.

If the Bill team cannot even get the groupings right, I suggest that the Government give them a little more time and bring the Bill back in the next Session. Clearly, minds are not concentrated on the Bill. I refer to the Home Office with all the Bills that it has in progress and all the problems that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has further down the river. I suggest that if we are to get this important Bill

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right it would be better for the Government to abandon it today and bring it back in a proper form in the next Session.

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