HC Deb 05 February 2002 vol 379 cc749-70 4.22 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris)

I am delighted, Mr. Speaker, to lay the 2000–01 report from Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools before Parliament. Let me begin by thanking and paying tribute to Mike Tomlinson, whose last annual report we are considering. He has made a huge contribution to education as a teacher and inspector, and I know that he will continue to do that after he steps down from his current post in April. I also thank the inspectors and those who work for Ofsted for their professionalism and dedication

Ofsted has shown the value of an independent inspectorate, identifying the strengths and weaknesses in our education system and telling it as it is. I congratulate the schools that appear on this year's list of outstanding schools and all those who work with them. We also congratulate and thank the more than 200 schools that have been removed from special measures this year.

Today's report shows that the quality of education is getting better. Our education system was recently acknowledged as a star performer by the programme for international student assessment study. We can be sure at last that we have a good and improving education system. We know that further improvements are needed; big challenges are ahead that need to be addressed.

Quality of teaching and school leadership is key to raising standards. The report describes teaching in the past year as the best ever. The proportion of lessons found to be unsatisfactory is the lowest ever recorded and the proportion of teaching found to be good or better has never been higher.

Schools are reported as being increasingly well led and managed. That is a tremendous achievement and I thank and applaud teachers, heads and all those who work in our schools for their hard work.

The chief inspector's report acknowledges the enormous gains that have been made in recent years through reforms to primary education. Between 1997 and 2000, the proportion of children attaining level 4 by the end of key stage 2 increased by more than 10 per cent. for both literacy and numeracy. This year saw continuing improvements in science, but results for literacy and numeracy levelled off. Although that was disappointing, the chief inspector acknowledged that we cannot expect progress to be even, year on year, and that We should, however, remind ourselves of how far we have come. As levels of achievement rise, it is inevitably more difficult to maintain the rates of improvement that we have seen to date. As we move towards our goals, the challenge will be greater, but we are determined to meet it.

At secondary level, too, management and leadership continue to improve, with the proportion of schools in which Ofsted judge these to be unsatisfactory now down to just one in 20. Achievement has also risen, with the Government's target of 50 per cent. of our children attaining five A to C grades at GCSE achieved one year ahead of schedule.

The chief inspector reports that in most special schools, pupils are achieving well, and that that improvement has been particularly marked in schools for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. In the mainstream, too, the achievements of pupils with special educational needs are showing welcome improvement. As a result of the further improvements in teaching and leadership, the number of schools in special measures has fallen again, and those that do fall into special measures are recovering more quickly. This year, 137 schools were placed in special measures, compared to 230 the previous year, and 194 schools have improved sufficiently to remove them from special measures altogether.

The report contains some encouraging findings, but we should not be complacent about the scale of the challenge still ahead of us. We have much more to do, as is also set out in the report. The chief inspector comments on the variation in performance between schools. He says that the gap between the highest and lowest attaining schools remains too large. Ofsted goes on to report that, while the gap between the highest and lowest performing schools is narrowing at primary level, it has widened at secondary level. Closing this achievement gap is one of the main aims of the Government's policies and we are determined to make even further progress. As the report notes, our literacy and numeracy strategies have closed the gap in primary schools, and we will further address the secondary school gap as part of our secondary schools reform.

While standards of achievement are rising for the majority of our pupils, Ofsted believes that some children continue to be failed by the system. It has been a national disgrace that children in care leave school with so few academic qualifications. Our children in care programme shows that there are early signs of improvement, but being able to say that the latest figures show that only 37 per cent. of young people leaving care in 2000–01 obtained one or more GCSEs or GNVQs—up from 30 per cent. the previous year—reveals just how far we have to go with that group of people.

The performance of certain ethnic groups is still one of significant under-achievement, but although there is still some way to go, improvements have been made. The youth cohort study published in January 2001 reveals a significant improvement in the achievement of many ethnic groups at GCSE level. Although there is as yet no similar national data source for the primary sector, the latest key stage 2 test results show that inner-city local education authorities with high ethnic minority populations are among the most improved in the country. This year we are introducing new national data collection arrangements, which will help the performance of ethnic minority pupils to be monitored locally and nationally. That will help us to ensure that resources are better targeted at need.

I am pleased that HMCI draws attention to the value of the excellence in cities programme for pupils in our urban areas. It is already making an impact because standards in schools benefiting from the programme are rising faster than elsewhere. The latest key stage 3 English tests showed an improvement in inner-city schools four times the improvement elsewhere. I am progressively extending the programme to more schools in clusters of deprivation beyond the inner cities. Twelve new excellence clusters are now operating, and I intend 12 more to start in September. They will be in Barnet, Bishop Auckland, Crewe, Derby, High Wycombe, Hillingdon, Lancaster, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Peterborough, Stockport and Wigan.

The fundamental challenge, of course, is to improve the quality of education for all our children. That is what we have set out to do through our White Paper, which is an agenda that aims for nothing short of the transformation of secondary education. That programme is given added weight by the report we have received today.

At the core of secondary transformation is the key stage 3 strategy. Too much time and previous gain is lost in the transition from primary to secondary school and we know that dissatisfaction with schooling can take hold at that stage. We need to turn that around and use those early years of secondary education to build on achievements at primary level and to provide a solid platform for attainment in the 14-to-19 phase.

We are investing £489 million in our key stage 3 strategy between now and 2003–04 and early feedback from Ofsted and schools is very encouraging. From September this school year, the strategy began to impact on 1.8 million of our children, building on the best of the literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools, to achieve a similar step change in performance at secondary level.

Schools will also have to be structured more to meet the needs of the individual pupil. We have made progress with individual pupil targeting, learning mentors for individual students and encouraging secondary schools to have a distinctive mission and ethos and to accept their responsibility to other schools and the wider education community. That is where beacon and specialist schools have an important role to play. We want all schools to develop a sense of mission and, in doing so, to develop centres of excellence and networks that lead to innovation and higher standards for all children.

Yesterday, I announced the biggest ever expansion of the specialist schools programme. By September 2002, we shall have 1,000, each teaching a full and balanced curriculum, using their additional specialism as a catalyst for whole-school improvement and increasingly sharing that expertise with other schools.

The best ideas on school improvement are so often developed in the schools themselves. We want our best schools to be the innovators of educational reform. That is why we are giving them greater autonomy and supporting innovation so that it has an impact on the whole system, but none of that can happen without teachers.

The report acknowledges, as we do, that teacher recruitment and retention continue to pose a challenge, but the chief inspector acknowledges that the measures that we have introduced are beginning to bear fruit. Apart from rapidly increasing numbers of people starting training and joining the profession, the alternative routes are expanding fast too.

Retention is mentioned by the chief inspector as a particular concern. A great deal has been asked of teachers and we need to make sure that they are supported to do their jobs. I know that work load is a key issue. I see giving teachers the time that they need to teach as critical to raising standards of achievement. At the end of April, the School Teachers Pay Review Body will make recommendations on work load.

Behaviour in schools is reported by Ofsted to be generally good, but the poor behaviour of a minority of pupils is reported as a significant factor in teachers' decisions to leave the profession. To help teachers to tackle disruption effectively, we have expanded our programme of on-site learning support units and learning mentors. About 3,000 learning mentors have been recruited and 323 pupil referral units are providing more places with better quality teaching. Our Connexions service will also offer advice to young people throughout the country when it is rolled out nationally later this year.

As The Times Educational Supplement survey reported last Friday, teaching is a profession on the up. It found that the typical teacher enjoys an improved standard of living and enjoys the job and that seven out of 10 teachers are satisfied with their jobs.

The Ofsted report is an important document. Its value is in its independence. It demonstrates the real gains that have been made and continue to be made in our schools. It also signposts for us continuing challenges, which we intend to address in raising standards further still.

The report states that one reason that teachers leave the profession is lack of esteem. They have no reason to think that their profession is anything other than one of the most important in this land. I hope that Members of the House will join me in paying tribute to teachers for what they have achieved for our children. We have it on Ofsted's authority that the quality of their work has never been better.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

I thank the Secretary of State for giving me a copy of her statement in advance, and join her in praising Mike Tomlinson and his inspectors at Ofsted.

The right hon. Lady was assiduous in picking out the positive aspects of the report, and of course no one can blame her for that. I too pay tribute to teachers and all others working in schools for the hard work they are putting in and the successes that they are seeing, but in her honest moments the right hon. Lady will admit that serious problems have been identified by the chief inspector, and that, alarmingly—she did not mention this—some are becoming worse year by year. The report reveals that the right hon. Lady's strategy of centralising and interfering as much as possible can yield some short-term successes, but it sows the seeds of its own destruction by demoralising the work force—the teachers whom she and I both admire.

Let me start with the primary sector. As the House knows, it is the part of the school system that the Prime Minister thinks has been "sorted". I hope he reads the report, and notes that of Ofsted's six main findings on primary schools one is positive, three are neutral and two are negative. This, remember, is the Government's best area of attainment—but there are many questions that the Secretary of State did not address.

Can the right hon. Lady tell us why she thinks reading standards have fallen among 11-year-olds, why performance in maths has become worse at the same stage, and why spelling is becoming worse in tests for 11-year-olds? By any standards, those are basic skills for our 11-year-old children. Can she also explain why Ofsted says that underperformance by boys—by comparison with girls—in English is becoming worse by the year?

Will the right hon. Lady address questions relating to the curriculum? Ofsted says that all the primary head teachers it surveyed are finding it difficult to sustain as broad and balanced a curriculum as they would like. Indeed, using a bland phrase that it must have hoped no one would notice, it says that one school in five can provide a curriculum that is broad and exciting, and challenges pupils across the full range of national expectations.

Let me translate. According to Ofsted, four out of five primary schools are not providing a broad, exciting and challenging curriculum. Is the right hon. Lady as alarmed by that finding as I am, and does she accept responsibility? Does she accept that the very strategies about which she boasted in her statement contribute to the narrowing of the curriculum?

In the secondary sector, problems are getting worse under the right hon. Lady's stewardship. Can she tell us why the gap between high-performing and low-performing schools is becoming wider? Can she say what steps she is taking to reverse the erosion of foreign language teaching identified by Ofsted, which she did not mention? Why—most alarming—is truancy so rampant? Ofsted says that more than a quarter of our secondary schools have unsatisfactory attendance levels, and the figure rises to 37 per cent. among those that have been inspected fully. That is a terrible figure, which should really frighten the Secretary of State.

Will the right hon. Lady address herself urgently to the underlying cause of these growing difficulties—the crisis of teacher retention, which has been brought about by some of the policies of which she is so proud? Ofsted says that the quality of teaching is in jeopardy in some schools, and that this is no longer an inner-city issue. Equally important are the findings that more teachers are being asked to teach outside their specialisms, and that the proportion of poor teaching is, in Ofsted's words, "considerably higher" among temporary or supply teachers—which is what we would expect.

The right hon. Lady is asking teachers to do jobs for which they are not trained. Every interfering directive from her Department adds to teachers' work load, and persuades a few more to bale out for a quieter life. The Department is not the solution to the crisis in teacher numbers; it is the main cause of the problem.

As Conservatives, we know that every day teachers, pupils, parents and governors put in an immense amount of hard work so that our schools can flourish. We worry that the interfering, centralising, bureaucratic way in which the Government behave towards schools and local government makes that task harder. The report shows that any improvements based on centralised command and control are fragile at best. Will the right hon. Lady heed its message and for once start trusting heads, teachers and everyone else in education to get on with their job?

Estelle Morris

I thought that that was a bit grudging. The hon. Gentleman started with a sentence or two of praise but his analysis quickly declined.

I think that there is general agreement about the progress made. The chief inspector talks about the finest ever teaching, fewer lessons being taught unsatisfactorily, fewer schools going into special measures, and those that are in special measures being removed from them more quickly. That does not happen with a teaching work force who are demoralised and are not doing their job well. It has happened because there is a true partnership between central Government and local authorities to support teachers, governors, classroom assistants and others to raise standards in schools.

Let us talk about central prescription. If the Government had not introduced the literacy and numeracy strategies, improvement would not have taken place in the schools that needed it most. The good schools—those that were already improving and those achieving at the highest level—would have taken what the literacy and numeracy strategies had to offer, but those that were probably not teaching effectively would not have done so.

Teachers have got to the stage where they take from the literacy and numeracy strategies, bring their professional judgment to bear and mould those strategies to the needs of individual pupils. If we had not insisted that teachers address the problem and if we had not supported them through money for professional development, that would not have happened over the past five years. Tory Members, particularly Tory spokesmen and spokeswomen, are the only people in this country who do not acknowledge that the literacy and numeracy strategies have been the success story of this Department.

Other things would not have happened without the Government, who are accused of central prescription. Mike Tomlinson said in his report that where support and effort are targeted through the excellence in the cities and education action zone initiatives, progress is made at a faster rate than elsewhere. That is a success.

We were always straight about the rate of progress. We always said that in the first four years we would prioritise primary and early years education. We did so. We delivered and it worked. At the second election, we always said that we would prioritise secondary education. That is exactly what we will do because we are addressing the difficulties at secondary school. We will build on our work in the first term. The results show that with targeted effort, financial support and partnership between the Government and others, standards can be raised.

I share the concerns of the hon. Gentleman that no progress has been made on truancy and attendance. A number of people, including the Government, must do all that they can to ensure that we improve that record. First, there is a responsibility on parents. Mike Tomlinson notes that 80 per cent. of children who miss school do so with the permission of the parents. As I say repeatedly to parents, letting their child miss school when there is no need damages their child's life chances. We must get that message across.

Schools need to do their best and they must be more assiduous in following up early absence as quickly as possible. We need to give support by spreading good practice and through measures such as electronic registration, but the hon. Gentleman is right; the report says that little progress has been made on truancy. It remains a concern. If children are not at school, they cannot learn. If they do not learn in our society, their life chances when they leave education are not as good as they should be.

On teacher recruitment and retention, Mike Tomlinson says in the report: Although nationally there are very few teaching posts with no one to fill them and most pupils have a suitably qualified teacher to teach them, there are real problems in recruiting teachers and in retaining them. I know that. It is precisely why the Government have introduced golden hellos and training salaries. In the Education Bill currently before Parliament, we are introducing measures to pay off loans. It is not the case that there are now fewer teachers than there were last year. In fact, there are 7,000 more teachers than there were last year and 12,000 more teachers than there were in 1997. More people are going into teacher training than at any time during the past decade. In the past year alone, 7,000 more teaching posts have been created because heads have more money in their hands. The dilemma is that additional money has led to more vacancies and I have never pretended anything other than that.

I conclude by quoting the chief inspector again: Action is being taken by the Government to deal with these concerns, but there are no quick fixes.

Mr. Damian Green

What about language teaching?

Estelle Morris

The United Kingdom has a long history of failure to teach modern languages. It is a cyclical problem and it is not improving. As we teach languages more ineffectively, fewer students study them at A-level, fewer take a university degree in them and fewer train to teach languages. In due course, the Government will announce how we intend to tackle the problem.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

My right hon. Friend will know that the Select Committee on Education and Skills will shortly examine the report in some detail with the chief inspector, so I shall not ask a substantial question, but I welcome her decision to make a statement to the House today. Does she agree that the atmosphere in the school teaching profession generally has much improved with the appointment of Mike Tomlinson as chief inspector? As Chairman of the Select Committee I see great evidence of that as I travel round the country visiting schools. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new partnership is a healthy one? The chief inspector is answerable to the House through the Select Committee and we have a healthy, but not a cosy relationship with him. We have detected a clear change for the better under Mike Tomlinson's reign as chief inspector and we look forward to interviewing David Bell when he takes over.

Estelle Morris

I am also a fan of Mike Tomlinson, who has done an excellent job since taking it on at relatively short notice. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee shares my view. There is a real difference in tone, because teachers are more confident. They know that they are teaching more effectively; their performance is better and children are getting better results. It is important that Ofsted remains independent. I am glad that my hon. Friend is not too cosy with Mike Tomlinson and I trust that he will not be too cosy with David Bell either.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

I also thank the Secretary of State for giving us an advance copy of her statement and I share the interest of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) in the fact that this is the first time we have had a statement in the House on an HMI report—indeed on the very day when we are short of time to discuss the Education Bill. I draw no conclusions from that.

I add my thanks to Mike Tomlinson. It is not just that teachers are more confident; Mike Tomlinson has created a new ethos within Ofsted—a genuine sense that the purpose of inspection is to improve schools and that Ofsted is working with teachers rather than against them. We certainly wish Mike Tomlinson well when he goes to Hackney—it is certainly an improvement on The Daily Telegraph.

I also join the Secretary of State in congratulating our schools, our teachers and our local education authorities. This report is the biggest compliment to our teaching force that we have seen for many years. I suggest that the Secretary of State put on all her literature a little statement saying that teaching in 2000–01 was the best ever. That would be a powerful statement to put on a press release and send out to all teachers.

I also welcome the compliment that the inspector's report paid to special schools, which rarely get mentioned. I hope the House will accept that the statement that they are working with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties far better than ever before is a real compliment.

We are also delighted that far more schools are being turned round much more quickly from needing special measures or showing serious signs of weakness. I wonder whether the Secretary of State will have the grace to praise local education authorities, because the vast majority of those schools have been turned round not by private sector companies but by such authorities.

However, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) is absolutely right to say that a lot of messages in the report are not being specifically addressed. How the Secretary of State proposes to narrow the gap between high-performing and low-performing schools is a mystery. We were told that education action zones will do the job, but she has abandoned them and one of the great planks of her policy is therefore missing. How does she propose to address the huge problem of the underperformance of children from Afro-Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities? In particular, what plans has she to recruit teachers from those communities? Until we do that, we will not make the necessary impact on that underperformance.

How does the Secretary of State intend to correct the finding of this year's report—and, indeed, of last year's—that too many children are being taught by non-specialists at key stage 3? The curriculum and staffing survey should have been carried out in 2000. but it was not. When does she intend to carry out that essential research, so that we can make proper plans for the future supply of teachers?

Can the Secretary of State also explain how we will provide an adequate supply of teachers—a point that the report describes as critical? In September, delayed retirements that were initiated under the previous Conservative Government will come to fruition, and more teachers will retire this year than ever before. Given that recruitment targets have been missed every year since 1997, how will we deal with that problem, particularly in key subjects such as mathematics, science and modern languages?

It is all very well for the Secretary of State to quote The Times Educational Supplement survey; in fact, she should quote the evidence in the report, which shows that one in five teachers are leaving within three years. What is she going to do to address that horrendous problem?

Estelle Morris

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not deny me the opportunity to quote The Times Educational Supplement—it provided the first decent headline on this subject in about five years. Give me a break—it was a joy to read on Friday morning. I sometimes think that our Department's headed notepaper has too many words at the bottom, but I take the general point that there is an onus on all of us to praise, and I certainly accept my responsibility to ensure that I am as generous when I give praise as when I criticise failure or demand even more from teachers. We must get the balance right. Teachers often hear words of criticism but not praise. We do not want to soft-soap them or to make their life easy—indeed, they do not want that. They want us to recognise good performance, and to challenge them when necessary.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) raised many issues, and I too am delighted at the performance of schools that deal with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Theirs is the toughest job in teaching and it is more difficult now than ever, because of the nature of the society in which such children are growing up.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) mentioned closing the achievement gap, and I want to return to that issue because I may not have dealt with it fully. He will acknowledge that, as Mike Tomlinson says, we have closed the achievement gap in primary schools. We did so through a universal programme for the literacy and numeracy strategies, but we also provided extra targeted help for those who were under-achieving. Where there was an entitlement to resources and training, every single primary school in the country was offered extra training and support, as well as help for those who needed it most. If my memory serves me right, we began with the 15 per cent. with the lowest level of achievement each year, and moved on to the next 15 per cent. We raised the standards year on year, and that is exactly what we will do with key stage 3.

We will have a universal strategy for key stage 3, and every single school in the country will feel its impact. Every school will get money and every teacher will get training, but those who need it most will get more help from the consultants—in fact, those schools will get more of whatever is going. What we do not want to do—and the hon. Gentleman will recognise the danger—is to hold the top schools back while the bottom ones catch up. I know that he would not wish that to happen either. The report shows that standards in the least well performing secondary schools have risen, but so have those of the top schools.

Our approach is always to give help to everyone, and to give extra, targeted help to those who need it most. I am confident about that approach, because it worked in primary schools. We have learned from that experience. We are good learners, and I hope that our secondary school strategy will have the same impact.

I also take seriously the difficulty caused by the lack of specialist teachers in early key stage 3. We have already discussed the situation regarding modern foreign languages, and we know how difficult it is to get enough maths teachers. However, I have always been straight enough to say that I cannot promise that we will recruit for teaching 40 per cent. of the maths graduates leaving university this year. That is the proportion that we need to reach our target.

We have to do more, and the key stage 3 strategy allows us to train teachers to teach maths who have not achieved the necessary qualifications. People who do not have degrees need extra teaching; they do not deserve to be driven from the classroom. We have to tackle the problem on all fronts.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough knows that we have made progress in recruiting teachers to teach maths, and I shall not go through the list. However, I accept that more needs to be done with regard to training those who are already in schools but teaching out of their subject. That is an integral part of the key stage 3 strategy.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough mentioned the problem of recruiting ethnic minority teachers. Again, we must break a cycle—people who do not do well at school do not go to university because of their bad experience of school, and they choose not to go back to school. Some years ago, the Teacher Training Agency agreed to have targets for the recruitment of ethnic minority teachers. Progress is slow, as it involves breaking a cultural tradition.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough will know that most progress on the matter is being made in areas such as Tower Hamlets. In inner-city Birmingham, sometimes more than half of the people working in a school are from ethnic minorities. That is good, but we must keep to the targets. Advice from any quarter—inside the House, and outside it—on how we can do more in regard to recruitment of ethnic minority staff will be welcomed. I know that the notion of a role model is very important for many youngsters going through secondary school.

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

I am deeply disappointed that only three of the four outstanding schools in Lewisham—Brindishe, St. Winifred's and New Woodlands—are in my constituency. However, another school in my constituency—Launcelot—is coming out of special measures. The progress being made in my area is therefore remarkable.

Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about how outstanding schools can help others in the same borough to achieve more? Will she also say something more about the problem of truancy? She will know about Lewisham council's initiative on truancy, and the consultation that is in hand at present. What does she believe should be done to ensure that children who become disaffected with school return to education and become achievers?

Estelle Morris

I congratulate my hon. Friend on having three outstanding schools in her constituency. There must have been an awful lot of Ofsted inspections in her area this year, but I hope that she will send the schools my congratulations. I especially congratulate the school that has come out of special measures. It is tough for a school to go into special measures, and it is tough while those measures apply, but it should be an immensely joyous moment for staff when a school comes out of special measures. Today is a day of celebration for those teachers, as well as for the staff in the couple of hundred schools in the same position. I also pay tribute to the work that Lewisham has done.

Schools that are not performing well should learn from the ones that are. The answers can be gleaned from good teachers, not from Government. Our job is to make the links, and many of the initiatives and structural changes proposed in the Education Bill to be discussed later are about freeing up and encouraging good schools to twin with underperforming schools. In that way, staff can learn from one another.

It is important to remember that learning is not a one-way process. I have never known a good school help an underperforming one and not learn something of value. I hope that that will remain the case in Lewisham and elsewhere.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

The Secretary of State said that, in their first Parliament, the Government concentrated on primary schools. Will she therefore offer a little more explanation of what appears on page 22 of the chief inspector's report? In one of his main findings, the chief inspector states: Many aspects of primary education have again shown some improvement this year, but in some key areas there has been little or no measurable progress. What is the right hon. Lady going to do to improve that over the next 12 months?

Estelle Morris

Transforming 17,000 primary schools, with 17,000 head teachers and governing bodies and hundreds of thousands of teachers, will take some time. The mess we inherited after 20 years of Tory misrule was such that—I apologise to the House—it will take us slightly more than four years to put everything right. However, I am immensely proud of what the Government have done and immensely proud of the progress that has been made in primary schools. Yes, we shall take on the progress that still needs to be made. Yes, we shall look at closing the gap further. Yes, we shall look at those schools that are still in special measures. Yes, we shall look at the underperformance of ethnic minority pupils. What is absolutely clear, however—and not just because I say it, but because Ofsted and Her Majesty's chief inspector say it—is that there is more progress than falling back. As Mike Tomlinson says, the report is a good one and primary schools are indeed a success story.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

The Secretary of State and the Government deserve our congratulations, as well as our thanks for the continued success of the Government's education policies, for their recognition that more needs to be done and for their commitment to do it. Is my right hon. Friend aware that Dunston Hill community primary school in my constituency has been singled out in the report as being particularly successful? Will she join me in congratulating the teachers and, in particular, the pupils on their hard work in achieving that? Does she agree that the school thoroughly deserves to be awarded beacon status?

May I also draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the hard work being done in Hadrian special school in Newcastle, which is a model of how to help and assist young people with special educational needs?

Estelle Morris

I am happy to do that. If I heard my hon. Friend rightly, that sounded like a bid for beacon status. I am sure that the school stands a good chance and that it will be considered in due course. I also hope that those schools gain recognition locally. The media in my hon. Friend's area give education good and positive support. During the next few weeks, I hope that the performance of schools that have been nominated as outstanding will truly be recognised and rewarded.

It is important to remember that some of the schools in that list serve the most challenging areas of the country. They have the most difficult job—breaking the historical link between poverty and underachievement. That is what lies behind the words in the report. My hon. Friend's constituency includes many such areas and I am delighted to join him in his tribute.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

I agree with the Secretary of State that there is much to celebrate as regards the success of our schools outlined in the Ofsted report. However, as a fair person, the right hon. Lady will acknowledge that the improvements in our schools did not take place over five years—they go further back than her period in office.

I pay particular tribute to a school in my constituency that was mentioned in dispatches—St. John's middle school. The Secretary of State will be aware that there are many outstanding schools in my patch and we offer our congratulations to St. John's on its mention this year.

May I ask the right hon. Lady about her plans for the teaching of foreign languages? After many years of relative failure, that is a great disappointment to all of us. Does the right hon. Lady have any plans to exploit our links with the European Union—for example, by creating teacher scholarships or initiating teacher exchanges—to tap into the resources available to our partners in Europe to provide competent modern language training?

Estelle Morris

The hon. Lady's comments on foreign languages are positive. My reply is similar to the one I gave the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) about maths teachers. If we carry on in the same way, there will be no change and things will continue to get worse. I hope that the hon. Lady can be patient because in the not too distant future we shall make an announcement about the teaching of modern languages. As she suggests, we should use modern foreign language expertise wherever it may be—using our connections not only with schools in Europe, but with language departments in universities and elsewhere. We should exploit that. Imaginative and creative thinking will break the logjam. I very much hope that when we make further announcements, the hon. Lady will find much to applaud, but I accept that we have much to do in order to catch up. I feel a great sense of shame when I meet my European counterparts and they talk about the quality of English teaching in their country, given our lack of ability to teach foreign languages at all in primary schools—let alone teach them effectively in secondary schools.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

When my right hon. Friend makes her announcement on foreign languages, will she examine the way in which Endon high school is trying to improve its teaching of modern languages?

I welcome and appreciate the hard work that has gone into the report. In Stoke-on-Trent and in Staffordshire, we are starting to see real improvements on the ground. I hope that my right hon. Friend will use the report to persuade her Cabinet colleagues that we need urgently to review the standard spending assessments and the area cost adjustments.

The report highlights the outstanding achievement of St. Margaret Ward Roman Catholic high school. The inspector says: It achieves very high standards in art and music because teachers have very high expectations to which pupils respond very well. Robbie Williams, who is an ex-pupil of that school, has donated £50,000 towards specialist college status and is absolutely desperate—as am I, as well as the six primary schools that are feeder schools to that school in Stoke-on-Trent—to get specialist college status for the performing arts. When my right hon. Friend considers the next round in March, will she look very closely at what the inspector has said? I hope that it will not be too long before I am welcoming the fact that we have achieved that specialist college status in Stoke-on-Trent.

Estelle Morris

My hon. Friend is a fearsome advocate for the schools in her constituency. The area started from a low base and has been traditionally neglected in allocating additional resources. It certainly suffers from not having the best standing in the standard spending assessment allocation table. I grant all that, but my hon. Friend will not like what I am going to say. I certainly look forward to a further application for specialist school status from the school in her constituency that she mentions, but that teaches us that being an outstanding school is not sufficient in itself to achieve specialist school status. Achieving that status is about schools working with other schools, spreading their expertise elsewhere and taking on even more demanding targets and using the extra resources to meet them, but it is clear that that school has very good foundations on which to work. I know how disappointed the school was not to be successful this time, but I hope that the report gives it the confidence to try again.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

I thank the Secretary of State for the fact that, in the list of schools accorded specialist schools status yesterday, she included King Arthur's school, Wincanton, and Frome community college, which are in my constituency. I congratulate the governing bodies of those schools on all their hard work. That status brings an enormous benefit to the local community and the schools with which it interacts. However, all schools should have access to the extra resources that allow them to develop their capabilities. The right hon. Lady may recognise the fact that governing bodies go through agonies in trying to make the areas of excellence in their schools conform to the established framework, underpinning the whole curriculum and not just a single subject. Does she accept that there may be an argument for more flexibility in the categories of specialist schools to enable those schools to have the freedom to follow their noses towards the excellence that they can provide in the local community?

Estelle Morris

I am pleased that two schools in the hon. Gentleman's constituency were designated as specialist schools. He is probably pleased that his hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, who speaks from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, did not have the chance to abolish the status before his schools achieved it. The Liberal Democrats have more than spent the penny on income tax; they do not have enough money left to grant all the money to all the schools that might want specialist school status.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the sorts of specialism. We have expanded the categories this session, as he knows. Our minds are never totally closed to what will happen in the future, but it is probably important that we develop the criteria in a way that is manageable for us, by working with our partners, as we see the demand arise. For example, in developing engineering schools, we have worked with the Engineering Employers Federation and the universities, which find very difficult to recruit people for engineering degrees.

I would not want to say, "You have a specialism in whatever you like and let us know." I know that that was not what the hon. Gentleman was suggesting, but there would be a real danger that such an approach would undermine the rigour of the system. I assure him that we will expand the programme as quickly as we can, as standards rise. We will not say that we will never again consider the need for further specialism to be added to our current list.

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)

I associate myself with the remarks about Mike Tomlinson. He has brought a different tone to the Ofsted inspection, which has benefited the process. My right hon. Friend may care to note that The Daily Telegraph has dispensed with the employment of a certain columnist. I do not know whether any assessment has been made of the individual's competence.

Mr. Willis

They probably deserve each another.

Mr. Shaw

Indeed. When my right hon. Friend introduces the Green Paper on the curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds, will she take account of the fact that many boys in secondary schools find that a purely academic curriculum does not suit their needs? That may be one of the factors that explains the lack of improvement on truancy. If a curriculum is completely alien to young people and they do not feel that it meets their aspirations, they are not likely to embrace it with much enthusiasm, and the result will be more truancy.

On special measures, is my right hon. Friend concerned that schools that are designated as having serious weaknesses may slip into special measures? Perhaps local authorities might focus their good work on schools in the serious weaknesses category, so that they do not get worse before they get better.

Estelle Morris

On disaffection, truancy and disengagement from the curriculum, I know that my hon. Friend did not suggest this, but the mere fact of young people being fed up at school does not mean that they should play truant. There should be no misunderstanding about that—there is never an excuse for not sticking with school. However, it may sometimes be an explanation.

For too long, this country has not valued vocational work. The routes and pathways through to higher education and continued learning for youngsters who are interested in vocational work have not been as clear as they should be. I have always paid tribute to the last Conservative Government, who tried to put that right with general national vocational qualifications and national vocational qualifications. Although their introduction did not work as it should have done, I have always said that they were an honest attempt.

We will shortly introduce our plans for 14 to l9-year-olds, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be pleased with that and will feel that it goes some way to meeting young people's needs.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

The Secretary of State will know my concerns about recruitment and retention in the London borough of Hillingdon. I therefore give a cautious welcome to Hillingdon's inclusion in the excellence clusters. Will she congratulate the London borough of Hillingdon on the priority that it places on education? In particular, will she congratulate two schools in my constituency—Abbotsfield school and West Drayton primary school—that have come out of special measures? May I also take this opportunity, on behalf of those schools, to invite her to visit them, so that she can see the excellent work that they have done?

Estelle Morris

I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating those schools. I know that, as a local Member, he takes a strong interest in what goes on in the schools in his constituency, and I have received delegations from him. He has always been present on those occasions on which I have attended Hillingdon schools in the past. He is an enthusiast for education, which is greatly to be welcomed.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that his constituency is in an excellence cluster. It will make a difference. Like beacon status and specialist school status, the excellence cluster is a part of Government policy that people criticise but which, if one is on offer, they want for themselves. I do not have a problem with that. I have no doubt that I shall return to Hillingdon in the future, and I shall certainly bear his kind invitation in mind. Meanwhile, if he could pass on my best wishes and congratulations to the two schools, I should be grateful.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

I welcome this year's Ofsted report. I also point out to my right hon. Friend that the results in primary schools are reflected clearly in the primary schools in Barnsley. If anybody has any doubts about that, they should visit the primary schools in my constituency.

I want to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to achievement in secondary schools in coalfield areas generally. It is clear that schools in those areas lag behind. Will she consider what additional measures may be taken in education action zones, which have been very good in coalfield areas, to ensure that we can lift the attainment rate to the national average as quickly as possible?

Estelle Morris

My hon. Friend has made a very fair point. If we look at performance in the coalfield communities, we see that the nature of their difficulties is very different from those in the inner cities. The coalfield community of Barnsley has underperformed, as has my city of Birmingham, but the causes of that underperformance are totally different. As ever, we need to examine why that underperformance is taking place, and then provide targeted help. A one-size-fits-all approach to raising achievement is not appropriate. I have visited the coalfield communities where it is traditional, as it is in some other areas, to work in one sector. As a result, there has not always been a connection between doing well in education and getting work. My hon. Friend might not share that view, but historically there has been a link between living in an area and getting a job. We need to change that culture and raise people's expectations.

We should learn from each other. I know that the coalfield communities form a strong network. My hon. Friend knows that we are working with local authorities in such areas, especially Yorkshire. By providing extra support in the key stage 3 strategy and by ensuring that communities benefit from the best of the education action zones and the excellence cluster, and that they benefit from the "Aim Higher" campaign, which is designed to encourage young people to aspire to higher education, we are sure that over the years we will make progress. I am delighted to have my hon. Friend as a partner in that.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham)

I congratulate Uplands primary school, which is one of several outstanding schools in my constituency. Another outstanding school is Cams Hill secondary school. Before Christmas, its head teacher had to deal with his recruitment and retention crisis by recruiting teachers in Sainsbury's. In that context, I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the key issue outlined on page 90 of the Ofsted report, which says: Teacher shortages are leading to the increased use of temporary supply teachers and the use of permanent teachers to teach subjects in which they are not adequately qualified; this commonly leads to weaker teaching, lower expectations and less effective learning. What impact will that have on standards? Does not the Secretary of State think that that will put them at risk, especially in light of the recruitment and retention crisis in teaching, particularly in London and the south-east?

Estelle Morris

I shall not go over the figures again, but they show not only that there are more teachers but that more are in training and more have applied to train. It is common sense that continuity of teaching helps children to learn most effectively. Even short-term contracts are not as effective as a teacher being in a school for a longer period. Of course I accept that.

We also have to accept, however, that every school will need supply teachers at some stage, either to cover for teacher absence, because someone has to teach the class, or to cover for teachers who are engaged in professional development. One of our dilemmas is that the increase in demand for supply teachers is partly due to the fact that we are providing more opportunities for professional development. We have reflected on that and know that we need to do something about it. That is why we have taken action. Unlike other Governments, we are ensuring that training opportunities are also available for supply teachers so that they can be trained in literacy and numeracy. It is not fair to them or the children to put them in schools without the training that they need.

Many people, especially women, would sooner work as a supply teacher than have a permanent contract because it gives them flexibility. My opinion is not significantly different from the hon. Gentleman's on that. I do not want to demean or downgrade the work that supply teachers choose to do, but I would never claim that a supply teacher is preferable to a permanent teacher if that is the head's first choice, because a permanent teacher offers the child continuous teaching. That is why we have put so much effort and resource into improving recruitment and retention even further.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

My right hon. Friend rightly drew attention to the report's comments on the variation in progress between schools and the need to raise standards at key stage 3. Will she look at improving the links between primary schools that have achieved beacon status for English and maths and the early years of secondary school, because there is much that they can teach other schools about the best way to make progress in those subjects?

Will my right hon. Friend also consider suggesting to Ofsted that it examine the way in which schools use new technology to improve their teaching, because some schools are far better at utilising that than others? While she is considering the need to provide extra training for those who are teaching maths but are not qualified to do so, will she not forget the large number of teachers who have for many years been teaching English in secondary schools when their first qualification is in another subject? Will she ensure that they receive extra training as well?

Estelle Morris

The answer to all those questions is yes. My hon. Friend made an important point about primary school literacy and numeracy teachers teaching in secondary schools. I must tell secondary teachers that they have been rather slow in waking up to progress in primary schools. The more they go to primary schools to see what is happening, and the more primary schools work with them, the greater is the progress. The only change for a child between years 6 and 7 is the six-week summer holiday. However, we have changed the whole system—the school, the timetable, the routine, the hours, the teachers, the expectations, the lot—and we have not managed that transition as well as we should have done.

My hon. Friend made an excellent suggestion. We have made available £10,500 for all secondary schools from this April, and they can spend some of that on exactly that sort of teacher exchange. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend's other suggestions, including making sure that teachers without an English qualification who are teaching English get extra support; all of those issues are being addressed by the Government.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

May I start by endorsing the comments of hon. Members about our teaching profession, whose members deserve great credit for many aspects of their work that are highlighted in the report? The Secretary of State makes disparaging comments about the previous Government. Given that she came to the House a few months ago to praise our educational system after the publication of the report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which highlighted the excellent performance of our 15-year-olds, she would do well to remember that those 15-year-olds spent nine of their 11 years of education under the Conservative Government.

When heads in my constituency tell me that they are losing young teachers because they "want to get a life", should I believe them? When they tell me that they are deluged by bureaucracy and that their jobs, as well as those of their teaching staff and their governing body, are becoming more difficult all the time because of Government initiatives, should I believe them? When they tell me that they are increasingly frustrated that they are not getting support from the Government on discipline in the classroom, should I believe them? And when the chief inspector of schools starts to highlight the future impact of those issues on future examination performance, should we believe him?

Estelle Morris

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues. I have acknowledged again today that we ask more of our teachers now than we have ever done before. Teaching is such an important job; the truth is that we would not have achieved the highest standards in primary education without asking more of teachers. The Government have launched a lot of initiatives. Should I believe the teachers who tell me that our initiatives have raised standards? The initiatives are not bad, but teachers find it difficult to manage them along with everything else that they are asked to do.

It is not just a case of too much paper and too many initiatives; the problem is more complicated than that. I do not want teachers to stop pupil-level target setting, or stop monitoring achievement and sending information to parents. I do not want them to stop looking at best evidence or what other schools do well. However, each of those demanding tasks asks more of teachers. The challenge is more sophisticated than we may think; it involves looking at things that teachers do not need to do, and providing support from people with other skills wherever possible. I outlined my ideas on that in a speech to the Social Market Foundation last year, and it is the core of what is being considered by the School Teachers Review Body.

I tend to think that the hon. Gentleman should not believe teachers who say that the Government are not offering extra support to deal with bad discipline. There are 3,000 learning mentors in schools; Ofsted said today that they are making a difference. There are 1,000 learning support units in schools, which were not in existence in 1997; Ofsted and teachers say that they are making a difference. However, that does not detract from the fact that, doubtless, there are heads in the hon. Gentleman's constituency who find it tough. They must be aware that we are aware of that; parents need to do what they can. However, the problem is not caused by lack of support; it is the nature of the challenge which many teachers face today from the children who attend school.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which is a tribute to her work and that of her predecessor, both of whom presided over one of the most rapid periods of improvement in achievement in British education that the country has ever witnessed. On the OECD report on the programme for international student assessment, while I welcome the enormous achievement of the United Kingdom, is it not the case that those countries that systematically performed better than the UK—I am thinking of Canada, Finland and South Korea in particular—had adopted universal comprehensive secondary education? Does my right hon. Friend draw any conclusions from that? Does it not remain a feature of our system that the impact of the individual school on the pupils' achievement is greater than in almost any other OECD country? Is my right hon. Friend convinced that the move to greater diversity will deal with the problems of differential achievement by individual schools?

Finally, my right hon. Friend mentioned the Ofsted research on the excellence in cities programme and the rate of improvement in excellence in cities schools. Is there in the report any similar evidence on faith schools and their levels of achievement or rate of improvement? If not, has Ofsted produced any relevant information since the 2000–01 report was published?

Estelle Morris

My hon. Friend raises a number of points. With regard to the PISA report, there may have been one country—I will not cite it, as I cannot recall exactly—that was better than us in all the aspects that were tested. Although in each of the areas there were between two and four countries that performed at a higher level than we did, it was not always the same countries. There was no pattern of our always being outperformed by five or six countries.

As far as I know, the PISA report made no correlation with the way in which schools were organised. However, it stated, and it is right, that the impact of the individual school was greater in the UK than in other countries, as was the link with poverty and social class, which was a greater determinant of educational success in this country than in any of our competitor nations. That, as my hon. Friend knows, concerns me a great deal and we need to examine it.

My hon. Friend would no doubt agree that that matches up with the view of Mike Tomlinson that there is still too great a difference between the performance of different schools in similar circumstances. We are a data-rich education system. Because we have those data, we must learn from the best. The good news is that for each of the categories in which there is underperformance, we can see that there are schools in similar circumstances that are performing well.

With respect to faith schools, I am not aware of anything in the Ofsted report that particularly highlights the performance of faith schools. I have never made the argument that faith schools are by nature higher performers than schools that are not faith schools, and I will not make that argument when I speak later on the amendment to the Education Bill dealing with that subject. The argument is a different one. I have always said that I think that faith schools are confident in their value base, and there is often a natural link between school and home that stands them in good stead. Equally, I have always said that schools which do not have a faith base often have a strong value base and similar links between home and school. Later, perhaps we can explore more thoroughly than we should now some of the issues raised by my hon. Friend.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport)

With reference to religious education, the Ofsted report states: In schools having a full inspection, the match of teachers and support staff to the demands of the subject are worse in RE than in any other subject, being good in only three out of ten schools. What conclusion does the Minister draw from that, and what does she propose to do about it?

Estelle Morris

I draw the conclusion that teaching in RE is not as good as in other subjects. The measures for recruitment, retention and training need to be assiduously followed. To make sure that we get the message right, I pay tribute to those RE teachers who do teach to a high standard. There is a danger sometimes that our conversations in the House go outside and are misinterpreted, in this case as damning all RE teachers. Clearly, the matter has been raised as requiring further improvement. Religious education is an important part of the national curriculum and is entitled to be taught as effectively as any other. If deficiencies have been identified, they ought to be addressed.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's justified praise of teachers and school management. I note from the report that, although significant improvement has been made in the teaching of information and communications technology, further improvement is necessary. Does my right hon. Friend therefore welcome the development in secondary schools of NVQs and GNVQs in ICT, which recognise that ICT is a key skill, alongside numeracy and literacy? It is a subject that appeals right across the ability range. What role do specialist technology schools such as Clough Hall in Kidsgrove have in trying to improve ICT teaching, not just in their local area but right across the LEA?

Now that they have a wider role under this Government than under the Tory Government, such development could be of key importance in improving the level of ICT teaching and leadership.

Estelle Morris

I agree. Many adults have not yet caught up with children in terms of ICT competence and confidence, and that is true for teachers as well as other adults. In our first term, we ensured that a great deal of resources—more than £1.8 billion over six years—was spent on ICT infrastructure and on training, but there is still a long way to go. I am pleased that progress has been made this year. As teachers learn, more developments occur, so we are constantly chasing the latest developments in ICT. She identifies exactly what needs to be done. Schools such as Clough Hall, which I know about from discussions with her, have a key role in ensuring that they share their teachers either through ICT links—including well-equipped specialist technology courses—or face-to-face training.

My hon. Friend spoke about spreading good practice across the LEA. Those involved should be more ambitious about that and listen for the opportunities that we offer in respect of being national leaders and creating links with other countries. If we want to be world class in education systems, we must look beyond our boundaries. She will know that there is a list of partner schools with which those who are involved must work in her constituency, and beyond. When they come to reapply for specialist school status, they will be judged just as critically on how well they have carried out their community links as on how much they have raised standards in their school. I hope that that message will go back and encourage them to work hard on both counts.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell)

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. In doing so, I should like to declare an interest as a governor of Morley Newlands primary school in my constituency, which is this week celebrating an excellent Ofsted report. As a governor, I think that we should recognise—this has been an occasion of praise and recognition—the work of school governors in helping us to achieve high standards. They give their time freely and have had to learn many more special skills in the past few years. The complexity that they now face is considerable. Will she not only join me in praising school governors for their work, but suggest ways in which we might recruit more governors? In certain areas, there are problems with recruitment of good-quality governors.

Estelle Morris

I am delighted that Morley Newlands school has been listed in the report and I congratulate it. Again, I thank governors for their work, as I did at the start of my statement. They ask for little reward or recognition and certainly no pay, and give generously of their time, energy and enthusiasm. A good school is the result of the partnership of everybody concerned, including the governing body. Like my hon. Friend, I worry that the schools that need the most effective governors sometimes find it most difficult to recruit. That is why, some three to four years ago, we financed the one-stop shop for recruiting, training and encouraging governors, so that governors could be recruited and placed in the schools that need them most. If things are tough and there are a lot of other pressures, head teachers will have neither the time nor the energy to go out and recruit governors, and yet they need them for support. The one-stop shop has been successful and we will continue to offer the support that it needs. None the less, I say to all hon. Members that they can also play a role. When they meet business people or others, including concerned citizens who want to play a part in education, they should direct them to schools in their constituencies where good governors are needed. I know that that will be welcomed.

Clive Efford (Eltham)

My right hon. Friend is aware that my education authority is carrying out restructuring throughout the service, which has placed a burden on some aspects of education in Greenwich. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the schools in our LEA without exception for the hard work that they are doing to bring about the improvements in education that we all want to see.

I also welcome today's statement and the inspector's report. We can only reflect on how much more we might have achieved in our early years in government if we had got rid of Mr. Woodhead sooner.

A friend who has worked for many years in a secondary school as a maths teacher told me that the numeracy hour means that, for the first time in his experience, young people in their first year at secondary school have a grounding in maths that allows him to start to extend them from the day that they arrive. That is testament to the Government's changes in education.

I want to make a plea about recruitment and retention in London. The cost of living, especially housing costs, is high in the capital city. Those costs bite in many schools. We solved the problem in the police service by dealing with the housing allocation two years ago. Training colleges in London are now full of police recruits. That is the only solution to the problem in London.

Estelle Morris

I am pleased by my hon. Friend's comments about maths. Many secondary school teachers have had to rewrite the maths curriculum to build on what has happened in primary schools. It is therefore important that the key stage 3 strategy for 11 to 14-year-olds takes into account children's improved mathematical and literary ability.

I accept my hon. Friend's point about housing costs, which are a major cause of difficulty in recruiting in London. There appears to be a pattern: young teachers work in London for a year or two but move elsewhere when they want to buy their homes or have families. In his previous post, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister launched the £250 million starter home initiative from which education was a major beneficiary. However, I am not complacent, and I know that there is a challenge not only for my Department but throughout Government.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)

I thank my right hon. Friend for the statement and the report, especially those aspects that deal with ethnic minority children, of whom there are many in my constituency.

We have dealt a little with truancy. Will my right hon. Friend comment on parent-organised truancy, which has a devastating effect on children in my constituency? I fear that it may also have a long-term effect.

I want to comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) about recruiting teachers from ethnic minorities and the good role models that they would make in some of our ethnic minority schools. An increasing number of young women in Keighley and Bradford are doing well and training to be teachers, but teaching in an Asian school is the last thing they want to do. We must examine that matter because they would make excellent role models.

Estelle Morris

My hon. Friend has spoken privately and on the Floor of the House about that matter, which causes her great anxiety because she knows that the best hope for her constituents' children is a decent education. I do not mean to be insensitive or critical, but it is not helpful when children are removed from school for a long time. They need to be in school to learn. When they come back to school, it is difficult for them to catch up. As a former teacher, I know that it is almost impossible to teach a class and the children who return to school after absences of six to eight weeks or even longer. There must be a clear message about that. Many members of the Asian community join us in conveying the message to give the kids a chance and not to take them out of school unless they are ill.

Mike Tomlinson said today that 80 per cent. of student absence is condoned by parents. That is not fair to the children. No matter how much we or teachers do, unless parents are true and active partners who get their children to school ready to learn, they will be left out. I suspect that the cycle will be repeated when they become adults and have children. We shall do whatever we can, but there is no easy solution. We must go on and on and convey that message.