HC Deb 15 March 2001 vol 364 cc1177-9
6. Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

How he plans that the creative partnerships initiative and the pupil learning credits will raise educational standards. [152554]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

The £35 million that we announced for pupil learning credits and the £40 million announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for creative partnerships will raise standards by offering pupils innovative and creative opportunities to learn. Children and teachers in my hon. Friend's constituency will get the chance to work directly with artists, cultural organisations and the creative industries. That will pay dividends in raised self-esteem and improved attendance, and will encourage a lifelong commitment to learning.

Valerie Davey

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and congratulate the two Departments on those imaginative programmes. There is good practice on which to build in Bristol. Multi-A, an arts charity based in my constituency with business backing, already enables more than 3,000 youngsters every week to have tuition and to visit live performances of the arts. Today, 400 youngsters, having had ballet workshops from the English National Ballet, will see "Giselle" at the Bristol Hippodrome. Given all that, does my hon. Friend recognise the description of schools as depressing, narrow and utterly misguided", in the words of the former chief inspector?

Jacqui Smith

When I visit schools I recognise that, as the former chief inspector said in his last report, teaching is improving. That means that children not only have access to the basic skills that are crucial, but are becoming well rounded and creative children. I congratulate Multi-A and other such organisations on the very good work that they are already doing. We want to build on that with creative partnerships and pupil learning credits, which will also support sporting and other activities.

As a mother, I want my children to learn a musical instrument, to go to the theatre, to surf the net for fun and learning, to play football, to read "Harry Potter" and other books at home for pleasure. I expect that many hon. Members with children feel the same; but the difference between Labour Members and the Tories is that we think that if it is good for our children, it is good for all children, and we will invest in it, whereas the Tories would cut it.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Do Ministers accept that, to raise education standards, it is no good the Government having a continuing alphabet soup of initiatives, tsars, taskforces and websites? The only way to raise standards is to have more good teachers. The Government have a serious problem with the recruitment and retention of teachers. Some 10,000 teacher training places have gone unfilled during the Government's lifetime, and teachers in Oxfordshire are leaving the profession because they are simply not paid enough. When will the Government grasp the nettle and pay teachers more so that we can have more teachers, better recruitment and better retention?

Jacqui Smith

That sounds like a pre-emptive strike to cut the money for creative partnerships and pupil learning credits—if we were unfortunate enough to have a Conservative Government. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need good teachers. There are almost 7,000 more teachers in schools in England; if we had followed Conservative spending plans, there would be 10,000 fewer. The increase in the number of teachers is an important sign of the Government's commitment to teaching. That commitment is reflected in the increasing number of those training to teach, the above-inflation pay rise that we have given teachers, and the threshold payments that grant experienced teachers a significant pay rise. There is also good news about the increase in applications for teacher training.

Conservative Members should join Ministers in praising and supporting teachers, and in encouraging more people to enter the profession. They should stop talking it down.

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