§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lightbown.]9.36 am
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education (Mr. Eric Forth)
I hope that hon. Members consider the debate as a welcome opportunity for us to discuss the important matter of standards in education in a more leisurely and determined way, as we can on Fridays.
I hope that hon. Members would also agree that there appears to be increasing political agreement on the achievement of those standards. I say "appears to be", because today will give us the opportunity to explore how much common ground exists between us and to discover where the odd political difference may still arise. Whatever those differences, as we approach the festive season, I welcome, in the spirit of generosity, the apparent recent conversion of at least some Opposition Members to our long-held view that standards and quality in education are and always must be of prime importance.
Standards and quality are the backdrop to the debate. Their achievement means that every child is provided with the opportunity to fulfil his or her potential and to enjoy access to knowledge, so that their skills are developed to equip them for life beyond education.
I submit to the House that the achievement of the objectives of standards and quality in education depends upon the successful implementation of a number of mechanisms, designed exactly to deliver those objectives that we have developed over the past 15 years. Those mechanisms are the national curriculum; regular and objective assessment and testing; publication of school performance data; regular inspection by independent inspectors; maximum choice and involvement for parents in the schooling of their children; procedures to deal with failing schools; effective provision for pupils with special educational needs; maximum access to post-16 provision; and effective development of pre-five education provision. That list is not necessarily exhaustive, but it might provide a good framework for the debate that we shall have in the House today.
My submission, it will not surprise anyone to hear, is that the Government are playing their full part in developing all the approaches that I have outlined to provide the appropriate framework and mechanisms for delivering quality and standards in education for all our young people.
I shall begin, because this is the most appropriate place in my speech, by saying a few words about the national curriculum. It is an oddity that, until the late 1980s, we had no national curriculum in Britain. Looking back now, that seems rather bizarre to many people. The truth is that, until that time, pupils up and down the country had no guarantee of access to a comprehensive range of subjects and knowledge in schools.
Since the late 1980s, we have progressively put in place a national curriculum which sets out to provide exactly that guarantee; to deliver to our young people in schools a proper range of subject matter in order that they will be better fitted to deal with life beyond education. That surely is of the utmost importance. It must be right, must it not, that every child in the land has that same access to 519 knowledge and subject material across a wide range of subjects? That is what the national curriculum sets out to do.
§ Mr. Forth
We acknowledge that it should not be a straitjacket in any sense, and that it should have an element of flexibility. That is why we have identified core subjects, which are of the utmost and overwhelming importance: English, maths and science, and the other subjects, which remain of the greatest importance. An element of flexibility within the curriculum enables teachers and heads in schools to alter the emphasis of education as they see fit in their individual school circumstances and to suit their needs.
There is now broad agreement, in education and beyond, that the complementary approach of core subjects and flexibility gives us an approach to the curriculum which is appropriate for the 1990s and beyond. Beyond that, the work done recently by Sir Ron Dearing and his authority to look again at the curriculum in the light of recent criticisms has produced a document which I am confident has widespread support throughout education and gives us a firm basis on which we can now proceed. Sir Ron is indisposed at the moment. I send him my best wishes for a speedy recovery, and, I hope, those of all hon. Members present.
That firm basis is important, because we need the co-operation, support and participation of everyone in education so that we can make the best use of the curriculum material and use it to the advantage of our young people. By "everyone" I mean, obviously, teachers, head teachers and governors of schools; but I also certainly mean parents. We must constantly remind parents, if they need any reminding, that their participation in the education process is vital. We must look to them to provide that.
Closely related to the curriculum is regular objective assessment and testing of pupils. I should have thought that that was beyond doubt and beyond debate, but we have had some difficulty in bringing everyone in education along with us in our stated objective of ensuring that there is a mechanisms and a procedure to provide for the objective testing and assessment of pupils at key stages in their development.
There are several reasons for that. I should have thought that everyone would want to ensure that we know what the progress of each pupil has been as a pupil moves through education, so that parents can know, pupils themselves can know and teachers can know, and so that we can emphasise those matters which require greater attention and provide comparative information for parents, teachers and the public at large about what is happening throughout education.
So, with our key stage tests at seven, 11, 14 and 16, together with the established GCSEs and A-levels and the developing general national vocational qualifications in our schools, we now have an arrangement whereby we can be confident that we can properly assess the progress of pupils as they go through education and report on it appropriately. There has been some difficulty in some quarters in accepting that, but I believe that we have now reached a stage where it is more and more widely 520 acknowledged that testing is the correct approach. It is welcomed very much, certainly by parents, and increasingly by teachers. There is now broad agreement that our approach is the best and most appropriate.
I say "broad", because some remain to be convinced. For example, some members of the National Union of Teachers apparently still remain to be convinced. The NUT recently conducted a survey of its members. Only some one in four took the trouble to respond. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bulk of that one in four expressed themselves still dissatisfied with the testing and assessment arrangements that we have in place.
However, against that, one has to point out that the other five teachers' unions—and, by implication, three out of four even of NUT members—are sufficiently satisfied with the testing and assessment arrangements that they are prepared to give them a fair wind and support them. I hope that that is the case, because it cannot be to the benefit of the pupils in our schools to have constant disruption and unpredictability from one term and from one year to the next.
§ Mr. Skinner
When the school testing was first initiated, and it became a matter for public discussion, people on different sides took different views. As a matter of interest, I still oppose the idea, because I do not believe that testing per se is the only measure of intelligence. When the newspapers decided to see what Tory Members of Parliament knew about tests, they asked them certain questions. Every Tory Member failed to pass the test.
§ Mr. Forth
The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a key element, as he so often does on these occasions. He has spotted the fact that most Tory Members of Parliament—even some of my younger colleagues—have not had the benefit of the national curriculum, or, indeed, teaching relevant to the application of the tests. We shall shortly see a new, thrusting generation of young Tory Members who will have received the benefit of the curriculum. I am confident that, at that point, they will be able to shine in the tests. The hon. Gentleman will answer for his colleagues as to how well they would do, but that is another matter.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)
Is not the important thing not to make claims for testing beyond what it is meant to achieve? Attacks made on testing are often on the basis—for example, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) recently said from a sedentary position—that they are not a test of intelligence. No, tests are not. They are a short, summative assessment for testing a level of achievement at a particular moment in time. They do not exclude continuing diagnosis of pupils' ability and learning, which is a continuing part of teaching at any time.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I could not have put it better myself. In fairness to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), I think that he said, standing as well as sitting—not an unusual occurrence—that the tests were to do with intelligence. They are nothing of the kind. The tests and assessments are designed to measure the progress that pupils make in education, and therefore provide the opportunity to see where they need more support, where the teaching can be concentrated.
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
Before we progress, it might be helpful to the House and others who might be listening 521 if the Minister could clarify what he said. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) that the tests were summative. From that very Dispatch Box on several occasions, he has said that they are not summative but formative, diagnostic tests aimed at helping teachers and others improve the performance of pupils. Could we be clear? Are they summative or formative tests?
§ Mr. Forth
I certainly will, but first, because this may help the hon. Lady, I want to remind all hon. Members present—it will not be the last time that I do so during my brief remarks this morning, for reasons that the House will understand—of some of the words of the Leader of the Opposition, who is becoming quite an authority on education. He said in the Sunday Mirror of 2 October 1994:we certainly won't be throwing out proper testing of children, because that's a necessary part of education".So we have it on the highest authority now that what we are doing is okay by the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Ms Hodge
Given the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for the national curriculum and his confidence in testing, and given that he believes that they will improve the quality of Conservative Members who are returned to the House, does he propose to extend the national curriculum and testing to the private sector, where most Conservative Members spend their early years?
§ Mr. Forth
I do not know whether that is true or not. As it happens, it did not apply to me or indeed to my daughters, but that is a matter for all of us to decide.
The answer to the hon. Lady's question is no. It is well understood that the Government welcome a healthy independent education sector. We understand the concept of choice. If people care, having paid their taxes, to spend their after-tax income on educating their children privately, they must have that choice. They will have that choice in the knowledge that the independent sector is not covered by the arrangements that the statutory or maintained sector is. I think that that is well understood. If the hon. Lady cannot understand it, I suspect that not much that I can say will persuade her.
§ Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)
In considering the intervention that my hon. Friend has just taken from the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), will he understand her difficulties in the matter, as the former leader of Islington borough council? The Leader of the Opposition discovered that he did not wish to send his children to schools in that borough even though he lived there, and he chose to send them to a school outside the borough.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I think that what he says is true. We might mention that subject again later in a different context, but I welcome any interventions that seek to elucidate those matters. It is probably for the hon. Lady to answer for the quality of 522 education in Islington, because I think that there are some questions to be asked. When eminent public figures take choices that suggest that their local education provision is unacceptable, I hope that many people will ask a lot of questions about what is happening, in Islington and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)
The hon. Gentleman still has not answered the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) asked about the extension of those rules to private schools. The Minister knows as well as I do that there are parents, especially in Surrey, who are sending their children to private schools who are being absolutely rooked by those schools. Therefore, it would be helpful if the Minister would say, "We shall extend those minimal provisions, which we think are the best for all children, to those specific schools." Will he give that assurance now?
§ Mr. Forth
No. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's rather patronising attitude to parents in Surrey or anywhere else. I assume that parents in Surrey and elsewhere are perfectly capable of making an adult, rational choice about the school they wish their children to attend and the money they are prepared to spend on that education. I do not accept that there is any difficulty in increasing quality, taxpayer-funded, in the maintained sector—in the sector provided, with some pride, by the Government, the Department for Education and the Secretary of State.
I think that it is appropriate that we have a curriculum and an independent inspectorate, and assessment and testing. However, I think that it is equally appropriate that the independent sector, in which parents pay from their own hard-earned money to educate their children in the way they choose, should remain free and able to operate in the way that the parents endorse, because it is a matter of choice.
§ Mr. Enright
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time, but I wish for a little more elucidation. In that case, why will he not allow parents in the public sector of education to choose the curriculum with the school individually, thus giving all parents choice instead of only a few parents?
§ Mr. Forth
I hope that the hon. Gentleman may catch your eye in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I wait to hear that apparently it is now Labour party policy that the national curriculum is to be on an a la carte basis, whereby parents, by some unspecified arrangement—by majority vote or whatever—can pick some or all elements from some or other curriculum in each school throughout the country.
It is an interesting idea. I do not find it immediately attractive, but I await the development of the hon. Gentleman's thinking, because I know that he has a great influence on Labour party education policy. Perhaps we are about to witness further changes in Labour party education policy this morning, of the type that has rather surprised us recently. I may return to that subject in a few minutes.
§ Mr. Jenkin
Is it not evident from the two interventions of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) that he is coming from a standpoint that has nothing to do with education? He obviously thinks that the Government should be responsible for all schools, 523 whether or not they are in the public sector, and he also thinks that parents should have no choice—that all schools should somehow be the same and regimented. Is that not the same old Labour party, wanting to create Stalinist uniformity throughout our national institutions, instead of the choice and diversity that will lead to the innovation and creativity that we need in our education system?
§ Mr. Forth
I hope that my hon. Friend is not making the mistake of dismissing lightly what the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) says, because the hon. Gentleman is somewhat of a Labour party guru on education, as indeed he should be—he has a very distinguished record in education. We should all listen carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says, because it might give a clue as to the thinking on education matters in influential circles in the Labour party. We shall all listen carefully when, as I hope, he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later in the debate, because we might hear a great deal to interest us.
Whether or not what the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) says during the debate would meet with the approval of his leader, for example, remains to be seen, but that is something that, if I have time, we might discuss later. In fact, we might mention it now, because I notice that the next heading on my piece of paper here is "Publication of Schools' Performance Data". That is a subject about which neither we nor the public and parents have any doubt. We might hear in a moment what Opposition Members' position is, but let me make our position quite clear.
We believe that it is appropriate—indeed, essential—that the public and parents know as much as possible about what is happening in our schools. That is our starting point, and we are very sure of that. We have recently seen the third round of the comparative performance tables that we are publishing about schools performance, and they have been lapped up with great enthusiasm again by the media and by parents.
Survey after survey demonstrates that parents want to know what is happening in our schools, as parents and as taxpayers, so our position on that is absolutely clear. Whether it is shared by Opposition Members remains to be seen.
I thought that recently the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) underwent something of a conversion, and that perhaps there was a growing all-party consensus on the subject. I thought that it was remarkable that, after bitter opposition to the availability of information, perhaps the Opposition were beginning to be persuaded of its value.
§ Mr. Forth
I shall give way in a moment, but I want to give the hon. Gentleman some information that he may then want to develop.
As recently as March 1994, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said, on the BBC "On the Record" programme:We will stop publishing league tables".That is what she said, and at the time she was the Labour party's education spokesman.
524 Or let us consider what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has said. He is a figure of considerable influence in the Labour party. He said in The Observer on 4 December that we must not turn the publication of results into league tables. Obviously, he had not listened to the Leader of the Opposition, who said on "Panorama" on 3 October this year:I'm fully in favour of information coming on league tables"—that was the term he used—but there should be more information provided.The final piece of confusing evidence comes from an item in The Scotsman, no less, of 22 November this year—it is quite recent. In it, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), a senior and influential figure in the Labour party, commented on what the Opposition education spokesman, the hon. Member for Brightside had said.
In response to the fact that the hon. Member for Brightside appeared to support performance tables, the hon. Member for Linlithgow said that he must be out of his mind. That suggests that there is some confusion among Opposition Members about the publication of information on schools and performance tables. I think that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) is about to put us out of our misery and give us the Opposition policy.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I should like to ensure that the record is put straight. There is confusion about simplistic raw data, and the Labour party has been consistent. In the Official Report of 19 November 1991, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), then shadow Secretary of State for Education, said:Our position during the past month is the same one that we have taken for three years. Again and again, we have argued the need for Ministers and local authorities to concentrate on the value added by schools. If one simply relies on the raw data, and not school effectiveness data, it may show the strength of the pupils at the school, not the strength of the school."—[Official Report, 19 November 1991; Vol. 199, c. 153.]That has been our consistent position, and I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification, because the heading on my next page of notes happens to be "Value Added". It is a welcome development that Opposition Members are now talking about value added. Let us think about what that is. It is not entirely clear what everyone means by the term. As with many other topics, there is confusion about the meaning of the term.
There is broad agreement that we would like to be able to assess the extent to which schools improve the performance of their pupils through their educative input and teaching efforts—there must be common ground there. The other inescapable fact is that, when seeking to measure value added in education, there must be regular testing and assessment of pupils at different stages of their education in order to provide the benchmarks. I see that the Labour party's Front-Bench team are nodding—at long last we have agreement that regular testing in schools is an essential part of education. We are making progress.
The fact that the hon. Member for Walton has endorsed the concept of value added takes us further. It suggests—I hope that he will expand on the subject when he speaks shortly—that we might be looking at some sort of testing 525 assessment for five-year-olds on their entry to school. If not, it would be difficult to see how we could measure value added in primary schools.
The hon. Member for Walton might say that he is thinking about some sort of assessment of pupils before the age of five, which might be an interesting thought. I can predict with confidence that he will be telling us that testing and assessment at regular stages throughout education is an essential part of measuring value added. Beyond that, none of us can go with confidence.
If the hon. Gentleman has read, as I am sure he has, the recent School Curriculum and Assessment Authority report on value added, he will know that it is a scholarly study of the difficulties and complexities, and the need for reliable data over a period of years before one can, with confidence, measure and publish value added information. I think and hope that that is common ground between us.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked SCAA to look further into the subject, which will be taken forward. We shall consult on the basis of next year's publication of results and decide which information can sensibly and reliably be published. I think that we have broad agreement on the subject, and I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
What sort of timetable does the Minister foresee for the introduction of value added data?
§ Mr. Forth
Of necessity, it will probably have to be a longish timetable, because the development of reliable figures on value added depends on the availability of reliable testing and assessment figures over a period. For reasons that the hon. Gentleman will well understand, we do not yet have them. I hope that we shall start to have them next year, when key stage 2 comes on stream. I hope that, from that year on, it will be possible to look at and publish value added figures. It is not something that we can expect to happen quickly.
The possibility of a year-on-year index, a rolling three-year index, has been considered and favoured in some quarters. We shall be consulting on that in the context of next year's performance figures generally, so it may be possible to introduce such a policy. I remain to be convinced of that option, but on the face of it, it is available as an option. I urge some caution. My answer to the hon. Gentleman's fair question is that I believe that it will be some time yet before we can contemplate the publication of comprehensive and reliable value added data. That is an objective that we all share and to which we are all working.
I said that we all share that objective, but I have in my hand a copy of The Teacher, a publication of the National Union of Teachers—its usual spokesmen do not appear to be present this morning; perhaps they thought that I would quote from this document. I shall quote from it, and the hon. Member for Walton may wish to comment. It states:The union is opposed to league tables whether they are Labour league tables or Conservative league tables. They are part of a market concept of education … Mr. Blunkett claims that his league tables will be better than Mrs. Shephard's because they will be so-called 'value added' league tables.This is the publication of the NUT, with which certain Opposition Members have a close affinity. It continues:The case for the value added approach has yet to be proved. There are enormous problems of defining all the factors affecting schools which would have to be taken into account … If Mr. 526 Blunkett is really serious about having the value added test, he will need to do more testing than the Tories. You can't measure the `value added' at seven without knowing the base from which you started. Therefore you would have to test children when they start school at four.That is a lengthy quote from the NUT, but it informs the debate. I think that Opposition Members may want to take the opportunity this morning to comment at some length on what the NUT said about what the Labour party's education spokesman said on value added. But that is a matter for Opposition Members—I do not regard it as my duty to go into the private grief of the relationship between the Labour party and the NUT.
§ Mr. Don Foster
I should remind the Minister that, as well as being an adviser to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, I am also an adviser to the NUT, with which, as the Minister well knows, I have had violent disagreements on a number of occasions. Like the Minister, I should be interested to hear the comments from the Labour party's Front-Bench team.
For the sake of the record, will the Minister make it clear that the Government's Front-Bench team and his Department are genuinely interested in adding value added information to league tables and to information provided to parents and others? He will remember that, about a year ago, his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), the former Secretary of State for Education, accused me of wanting to obfuscate the facts by talking about value added.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—I sometimes lose count of the number of education hats he wears. He has helped us with what he has said.
The position is perfectly clear. It may be that, at the time of which he speaks, we were having a debate about sociological factors and massaging figures. I am glad to say that I think that that debate has been left behind—it was nonsense then, and it is nonsense now. I have no difficulty in confirming that the Secretary of State has said that she wants to take the matter forward.
When we can identify ways of properly measuring value added on the basis of reliable data, we shall want to provide that information. We have no difficulty with that. The SCAA report suggests caution, and patience would be sensible.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I want to set the record straight on the relationship between Labour Front-Bench spokesmen and the National Union of Teachers. The NUT is not affiliated to the Labour party, and pays nothing into Labour party funds. Would the Minister say the same, for instance, about the Tory placemen on the Funding Agency for Schools who contribute to the Conservative party through their various companies? Is the Minister beholden to them?
§ Mr. Forth
If the hon. Gentleman discusses these points with members of the FAS—it is a very open body—he may find that they do not believe that the Government are in their pockets, or vice versa. Quite rightly, a vigorous debate goes on between the Government and the funding agency, about the future shape of the grant-maintained sector of funding and various other matters. I have no difficulty with that at all.
§ Mr. Jenkin
What worries me about added value tables for schools is the fact that schools in more difficult areas 527 may be given an excuse for poor performance. We should remember that one of the prime aims of education is to achieve good results across the board and to give good opportunities to all children, wherever they live and wherever their schools are.
§ Mr. Forth
My hon. Friend is right; he illustrates some of the difficulties. If a school is performing extraordinarily well, on some methods of measuring added value it can be difficult for it to demonstrate an improvement—if it already achieves a 100 per cent. pass rate, for example. By the same token, a school starting from a low base line can readily show a rapid rate of progress simply because it started from such a poor position. That just goes to show some of the problems in this area.
§ Mr. Enright
I have considerable sympathy with what the Minister is saying. Winchester, which is highly selective and weeds out the thickies at an early stage, should perform extraordinarily well; whereas Eton, which will take any old thickie, should be judged by another standard altogether. The value added in each case should be put together and compared.
§ Ms Hodge
It appeared to me during the most recent exchange that the Minister does not quite understand what value added is about. It is the value added to the educational attainment of each child. Merely looking at the outcome of a school does not show how that school has added to what a child can achieve. The intervention by the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), and the Minister's reply to it, both showed a misunderstanding of the value added concept.
§ Mr. Forth
The hon. Lady, too, shows the difficulties which I have already readily accepted. I have said over and over again that we all want to find a valid method of measuring the value added by education to pupils' attainments: that is common ground. The difficulty arises with finding that method, finding the relevant data and determining how to measure and report them. I think that there is more common ground here than the hon. Lady is prepared to acknowledge, and that heartens me. If nothing else emerges from this morning's debate, that alone will have been a considerable achievement.
I shall pass over one or two elements of the list that I gave at the beginning, for which I apologise, but I know that colleagues want to make their speeches. I do feel, however, that I should say something about parental involvement. That will lead me quickly on to discussing grant maintained schools.
There is, I hope, a growing consensus—we wait to hear what Opposition Members have to say—on the idea that parental involvement is crucial to education. We have provided a number of ways of enhancing it: reporting on children's progress at least once a year; summary reports on schools by independent inspectors; performance tables; comprehensive school prospectuses; annual reports by schools' governors; annual general meetings; parent governors serving on school boards. All these are 528 designed to increase parents' participation in schools and to give them a greater sense of ownership in what schools do. There is little disagreement about that.
Parental involvement can take many different forms—direct involvement as governors, attending AGMs, and so on. Another important recent element of parental involvement has been parents' ability to participate in ballots on whether a school should become grant maintained. We have developed that policy over a number of years, and it has been extremely successful. More than 1,000 schools have chosen to become grant-maintained—in spite of some vicious opposition from local education authorities. Still, these schools have decided to go for GM status, and we have enabled them to do that.
There appears to be some confusion about what Opposition Members really think about grant maintained schools. In the course of the "On the Record" BBC programme on 6 March 1994, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), then the Labour party's education spokesman, stated:you can't keep Grant-Maintained schools".Perhaps we may characterise that—if this is not too ungallant of me—as the authentic voice of old Labour, bitterly opposed, as ever, to parental choice. But a Mr. Neil Fletcher said on the same programme:It would be very wrong for an incoming Labour government to … return those schools, against their will, to the LEA. The Labour Party cannot afford to be against popular schools".I found that an informative insight into Labour party thinking.
These newspaper articles can be a mine of information. In The Observer of 4 December 1994, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said:It would be intolerable were the Labour party to encourage the middle classes to elbow their way into the most popular schools".I cannot imagine who the right hon. Gentleman had in mind, but there is clearly some confusion on the part of the Opposition as to what is going on.
Are grant-maintained schools a matter of parental choice, given that the schools opt for that status and then parents elect to send their children to them? Do Opposition Members approve of personal choice, or parental choice? I hope that this debate will provide an opportunity for Opposition Members to tell us in some detail—possibly with some passion—what they think about GM schools, parental choice and the freedom of parents to exercise that choice. I suspect that the hon. Member for Walton is itching to get up and tell us right now.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
We are in favour of choice, but that choice has to be informed. Would the Minister care to tell us why, when parents at the West Monmouth school had clearly balloted against GM status, the Government then insisted that they hold another ballot?
§ Mr. Forth
Indeed we did. When local education authorities and/or the Labour party have provided parents with appallingly distorted information and subjected them to intolerable pressure, there is certainly a mechanism for ordering a re-run of a ballot, and it has been used from time to time.
As for ill-informed choice, I wonder what sort of information parents would have if they were considering local schools that were provided by a Labour LEA, and decided that all the schools were obviously unacceptable 529 and their choice was to send the child to another school some distance away? Presumably such parents would have had sufficient information, and I would not be surprised if they had used our performance tables on schools in the locality before deciding to send the child some distance.
It is right for us to provide information for parents and to give them freedom of choice, and we applaud the right of parents to make that choice. I hope that the Opposition will tell us that they also support those freedoms, the provision of such information and the right of parents to decide where to send their children.
I apologise for speaking for such a long time. I wanted to cover some other areas, but I will not do so.
§ Mr. Don Foster
Before the Minister leaves the issue of grant-maintained schools, will he give the current prediction of his Department for the number of pupils in grant-maintained schools by December 1995? I hope that the Minister will not say, as he has on other occasions, that his Department does not make predictions about such matters, because it has regularly done so in various memoranda and in evidence to Select Committees. That evidence demonstrates that, so far, the Department's predictions have been out by 40 per cent.
§ Mr. Forth
No, I cannot make such predictions, because the hon. Gentleman has kindly alluded to the fact that I have said many times that the number of pupils in grant-maintained schools at any one time is determined by parental ballots. We have no control over that process, which happens naturally. Therefore, the number of pupils and the number of schools are determined by ballots.
§ Mr. Foster
The Minister cannot get away with it as lightly as that. His Department makes predictions which, of course, have often been dramatically wrong. There were predictions in the press release relating to the Budget. I ask the Minister again to place on record his Department's prediction about the number of pupils in grant-maintained schools over the next two or three years.
§ Mr. Forth
What is contained in the press release is presumably what the Department wants to say about the matter. I shall not repeat what is in the press release, because that is not my function in this debate. As the hon. Gentleman has kindly conceded, for a long time I have taken a much more relaxed attitude to these matters. It would be quite wrong of me to vary my position now just because the hon. Gentleman has read a press release.
I shall now turn to the issue of failing schools. In a debate about standards and quality in education, we must consider that important matter. In a sense, I suppose that we have arrived at this rather late, but it is right that we have finally reached it. For too long, too many schools have failed their pupils and have been allowed to continue year after year and generation after generation to provide unacceptable education.
Generations of young people have left our schools hopelessly equipped to meet the demands of the modern age. That is quite intolerable, and that is why we took the power in the Education Act 1993 to allow Ofsted, the independent inspectorate, to identify schools that were failing their pupils and to invoke a mechanism requiring the schools and the LEA, where appropriate, or the governors in the case of a grant-maintained school, to produce plans to bring the school up to acceptable standards.
530 The fallback mechanism was that an education association could be created to manage the school and ultimately to decide whether the school was satisfactory or had to be closed. We have already started that process, and a number of schools have been identified by Ofsted. I am happy to report that, so far, the response by the overwhelming majority has been positive. They have been remarkable in examining what they were doing and considering plans for improvement. The early signs are that the bulk of those schools, often with the support of their local education authorities, will improve their performance to an acceptable extent.
That sends out an important message to education and to everyone involved in it, which is that failing schools, which let their pupils down year after year and generation after generation, are unacceptable. As I say, there is now a mechanism to deal with them, and it has widespread support throughout education. The willingness of schools, governors and LEAs to respond to that mechanism has demonstrated that it will bring in a new era of hope for pupils who for too long have all too often been badly let down.
The issue of special educational needs is very close to my heart. I have had the privilege of dealing with it since I came to the Department two and a half years ago, and I can claim, I hope with humility, that, over the past two years, we have taken important action in this area and have carried with us most of the people involved.
Few areas of education are as important as dealing effectively with pupils who have special needs. A great breakthrough was made in 1981 with the seminal report, but by about 1992 we had identified weaknesses, inconsistencies, gaps and problems. Worst of all, many pupils were required to wait an intolerable length of time to have their education dealt with properly by schools and LEAs.
The combination of the Education Act 1993, the code of practice that underpins it and the special educational needs tribunal goes a long way towards dealing with those difficulties. My confident hope is that we shall be able to deliver quality provision of education to pupils with special needs in all schools.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
In some Labour-controlled authorities, such as Ealing, the law is being seriously broken. Grant-maintained schools are getting proportionally much less support on special educational needs than authority schools. Children are not being statemented when they should be, and those who are statemented are not getting the support that is set out for them in the statements. The law is being blatantly flouted by Ealing Labour council. What do the Government intend to do about such serious breaches of the law?
§ Mr. Forth
If my hon. Friend will provide me with evidence, I will have it looked into urgently. What he says is happening is unacceptable, and we shall want to act promptly and effectively to deal with the difficulties.
Of course, the new regime has been in force for only about three months. The full implementation of the code of practice in particular and the tribunal, which will hear its first cases next month, will take some time. The combination of what we are doing about special needs, school policies, the code of practice and so on will go a 531 long way to deal with the problems that my hon. Friend may have in mind. I ask him again to let me have evidence of what he has alleged, because I want it to be looked at.
I hope that what I have said will convince hon. Members and those outside that the Government are serious about standards and quality in education. We want to make sure that every child is guaranteed, as far as it is possible to give that guarantee, access to a proper breadth and quality of education. We are determined that all pupils, regardless of location, background or abilities will be fitted as best possible for the ever-increasing demands of the world beyond education. That is the Government's responsibility, and we are determined fully to discharge it.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
To a certain extent, there is increasing agreement on education between the Government and the Opposition, but only because the Government have made so many U-turns—in particular the appointment of a new Secretary of State for Education.
I welcome the opportunity to debate standards in the education system. Perhaps I should say "our" education system, as we are talking about the state system—the system that I and five of my children went through, and a system about which I feel passionately. I do not know whether one can feel the same passion for a system that one does not use very often, but I declare a vested interest for myself, the Labour party and certainly for the good burghers of Walton, because we do not have the option of buying into the private sector, and nor do we want to; we pay our taxes and expect the Government to provide a decent, high standard of education for all our children.
I want to talk about the real standards in schools, not the spurious measures that the Conservative party often try to pass off as a way of proving educational advances. It was telling that there was not a single word in the Gracious Speech about education. It shows how little Conservatives care about it. For me, education is the principal route for individual advancement and for national progress. Yet, for the past 15 years under this Government, the education system and the opportunities for those who depend on state provision for the education of their children—the vast majority of the British people—have shrivelled. The Minister gave us a whole list of sectors. I understand that, because of the pressures of time, he had to omit some of them, but it is interesting to note some that he omitted.
One subject about which he may have had a Pauline conversion was nursery provision. If we are serious about improving the standards in education, we need to start at the very beginning with nursery provision. As we all know, 50 per cent. of education development takes place in the first five years of a child's life. The research from the National Commission for Education, the Royal Society of Arts and the National Foundation for Educational and Research in England and Wales provides conclusive evidence of the value of such education. I know that the Minister is well aware of that.
More importantly for me, in the context of recent debates, is the recent American research, which evidences the long-term social benefits of nursery education. These days, even our benighted Prime Minister seems to see the advantages of nursery education. That is until he saw the 532 costs, because, by all accounts, to fulfil the pledges that he and the Secretary of State for Education made would cost about £300 million, but there was no extra money in the recent Budget. It could be argued that the Secretary of State has signally failed to persuade the Chancellor that support for nursery education is worth financing, but, of course, he has problems of his own right now.
I was also taken by the comments of Sheila Lawlor, a well-known advocate of Conservative policies, who last night again made a fool of herself, this time on the regulation of outdoor education centres, and was yesterday in The Guardian. It seems that she challenges the consensus view that nursery education has proven social and educational benefits. I wonder whether, as in the past, she speaks for the new thinking in the Conservative party. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that, once again, she is out of step with its thinking.
§ Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
The hon. Gentleman raises two points to which I shall refer, the first of which is spending. Can he really be unaware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has secured an extra £427 million for education spending this year? Secondly, Sheila Lawlor produces papers, which may or may not interest Conservative Members, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that she certainly does not speak for the parliamentary party.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
Let me nail the myth about the extra money for education and what did and did not come out of the Budget, including the £400 million that was taken away from the local education authorities. As to the business about Sheila Lawlor, she always seems to be at the forefront, and very often what she says today, the Conservative party and the Government take up tomorrow. I wonder whether it will be another U-turn—one of many that the new Secretary of State has made already.
§ Mr. Forth
While I confirm, which I happily do, that it is the Government's policy to develop and work towards a policy of education provision for all four-year-olds, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman—I detect that he might be leaving the subject—will confirm precisely the Labour party's commitment to pre-five provision.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
It is a matter of record that the Labour party goes along with precisely what was pointed out in our White Paper, "Opening Doors on a Learning Society"—that appropriate nursery education provision will be made available to all three and four-year-olds whose parents want it. It would obviously have to be costed and paid for. [Interruption.] I shall touch on that later, if and when the Government decide to implement their own pledges and look at the cost of the assisted places scheme. Money within the current budget is not necessarily unavailable for such a purpose.
Labour's key objective will be to ensure that all three and four-year-olds have quality nursery education. That will happen in due course, but nevertheless it is a commitment. It will be one of the very first things that the next Labour Government—which is not too far off—will put into practice.
I shall deal now with cuts in education spending. It is a fact that £100 million was cut from the budget for the Department for Education and Ofsted. Ofsted faces a cut of £13 million in planned expenditure, despite concerns about the need for more inspections. I understand that 533 inspections have now been handed over to Her Majesty's inspectorate because of Ofsted's failure to meet the targets. Instead of a budget of £111 million, it must make do with only £98 million. I note that, in some of the London boroughs, fewer than half of the planned inspections were made.
For a Government who espouse standards as their byword for their education policy, I do not understand how, without making the appropriate inspections of schools, they can even begin to assess the standards. It is quite disgraceful that Ofsted has been unable to meet its targets. It failed only because of Tory ideology. It is not working. Regular inspection of primary schools in particular is crucial if we are to raise standards and improve literacy and numeracy.
I return to the cuts in the local education authority budget—£400 million. For most authorities, that means a cut in real terms of 2 per cent. I think that the Minister has his brief from the civil servants, and he may like to answer. He is obviously anticipating that we shall find many more faults in his claims. Nevertheless, those cuts will affect every pupil in every school across the country—that is, unless one is in the private schools system—and many grant-maintained schools. I hasten to mention to Conservative Members that I shall not avoid the question of grant-maintained schools. I shall come back to it as the climax to my contribution. We now have a large and very damaging cut in what will be available to schools next year.
On standards, another issue is that of class size. I have read about, and, certainly in recent months, heard of, many examples around the world of large class sizes not seeming to affect the standards in those schools. I have to say that, when I was teaching, if I had a class—which I did at secondary level—of more than 40, it was a damn sight harder to impart knowledge in my limited way to those pupils than it would have been if I had had a class of perhaps 20.
One of the great advantages that the private schools seem to have is a low pupil-teacher ratio compared to schools in the public sector. People do vote with their feet on these issues, but class size is an issue that the Government have failed to address, but which they should address because of the pressures that it puts not only on teachers but, most importantly, on the individual pupils in the classroom. The problem affects not only schools, but the higher education sector.
§ Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)
The hon. Gentleman referred to class sizes and the pupil-teacher ratio. Does he accept that since 1979, the ratio has improved from 19:1 to 18:1?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
No, quite the reverse has happened. The figures that I have show that the pupil-teacher ratio in January 1993 was 17.8:1 and in January 1994 it was 18.1:1. That is an increase, not a decrease.
Class sizes are important to the quality of education. A recent publication by Professor Neville Bennett of Exeter university, called "Class size in Primary Schools: Perceptions of Headteachers, Chairs of Governors and Parents" reflects the views of people at the sharp end of education. It is believed to be the first time that the independent views of those directly concerned at school level have been sought. That in itself is something of a scandal.
534 Not surprisingly, the report states that the great majority of teachers, parents and chairs of governing bodies say that class sizes are too large and that class size is a very, if not the most, important educational issue. The research is significant because those conducting it sought the opinions of the four key partners directly involved in children's education. Too often, hon. Members want to be prescriptive about what is happening at the sharp end of education.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
Most of my evidence is anecdotal. I have spoken to both teachers and parents. By and large, it is accepted by the consumers of education, especially parents, that smaller classes are more effective. Indeed, that is often reflected in results. Schools with low pupil-teacher ratios have better results, especially in examinations. In the Minister's terms, they are more successful academically.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
No, I do not. The Minister makes a specious argument.
Professor Bennett's research shows that almost one in three teachers now teach classes with 31 or more children. The position is worse for children aged seven to 11—years three to six—where almost 40 per cent. of teachers have those large classes. The Department's own figures tell the story, although they omit the worse cases. They show that the pupil-teacher ratio in maintained nursery, primary and secondary schools is 18.1:1. It has actually risen over the past 12 months. Head teachers and chairs of governing bodies are frustrated by external constraints in their attempts to prevent class sizes increasing—for example, by the operation of the formulae for local management of schools and the appeals system covering places in schools.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I have no idea, to be quite frank, but I do know that the figure should be decreased. I say that from my experience both as a teacher and as a parent. I am sure that research can determine the appropriate figures. Problems arise when the Government feed figures, rather than quality, into schools. The Government want numbers, not quality.
Other factors affect standards in our schools. It is all very well to talk about academic outturns, to use the jargon, but what about the actual buildings in which pupils are being taught and where they are supposed to learn? Six years ago, the Audit Commission estimated the cost of clearing the backlog of repairs and maintenance to schools at £2 billion. Recent research by local authority associations shows the cost could now be double that.
Is the Minister aware of the scale of the problem, which affects every authority? In a recent report, one London head teacher asked:What use is a parents charter when you are allowing pupils to work in such dreadful conditions?535 It is only a matter of time before there is a serious accident in one of those schools. Every hon. Member must have visited schools that pose real dangers to both children and staff because of the poor state of the fabric of the buildings.
The state of school buildings is nothing less than a crisis, but the Government are allowing local education authorities only 23 per cent. for that in their capital borrowing bids for the coming year. The answer seems simple to me. Why cannot local authorities borrow more to finance the appropriate buildings? Why not allow LEAs more discretion to use receipts from the sale of land and property? I am sure that the Minister will respond to that point later.
It is time that there was an end to the "Dad's Army" of recruits who patch and mend the fabric of schools buildings, many of which are more than 100 years old. Some of the buildings are demountables, erected on a temporary basis more than 30 years ago—yet children are still being taught in them. At one school in Birmingham temporary buildings erected 60 years ago are still being used. It is a national disgrace.
§ Mr. Enright
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Is he aware that the problem is compounded in mining areas because of the amount of subsidence, for which it is now impossible to get reparation from British Coal?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, different circumstances affect schools in different parts of the country. The picture is one of unremitting gloom.
The Minister commented on curriculum changes. We have long supported the need for a national curriculum and we welcomed its introduction. However, we part company with the Government on the prescriptive national syllabus that they have been enforcing. We believe that, through the national curriculum, all children must be equipped with the core skills which are essential to their later learning and which provide a broad and balanced education for each child.
However, we cannot avoid the fact that since the former Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), introduced the national curriculum in 1988, it has cost the taxpayer almost £750 million. That money has been wasted on tinkering with the contents. It has been spent not on improving facilities and standards in the classroom but on funding the bureaucracy which the Government have created to administer the changes, and which they are constantly having to adjust. The last round of changes cost £6 million for the publication and distribution of a new curriculum. Some £2 million was spent on consultants fees—which seem to arise in almost every Government operation. The interim and final Dearing reports cost £755,000, while the work by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority on slimming down the curriculum cost £582,000.
All that tinkering has an effect on staff and pupils in schools. Time that should have been spent on boosting achievement has been wasted on adapting to the whims of whichever Secretary of State was in office. We are talking not about one, not about two, but about five different Secretaries of State. It is a national scandal.
536 I want to raise a point about which I feel very, very strongly. It occurred to me only this morning. The emphasis on English that was in the new curriculum is being undermined by the amount of section 11 money being diverted into the single regeneration budget. The very people who most need help—those with English as a second language—are being penalised because section 11 money is being taken away. I hope that the Minister will make representations to his Government to redress that balance.
Neither the Government nor my party can measure any improvement in standards because the Government, according to their own record, got it wrong from the start. I am glad that the Secretary of State has said that there will be a period of stability, during which time the Government will boost standards and develop achievement levels free from bureaucratic worries. If the Secretary of State repudiates more unnecessary and unwanted radical change, we will welcome that.
One of the more contentious issues to which Conservative Members will want to direct their attention is league tables and examination results. We will not be lectured by them on the publication of data, because we differ most over their quantity and quality. We shall ensure that every parent will have the right, under a comprehensive freedom of information Act, to obtain details of the performance of local schools and LEAs. We shall publish information on a range of issues, including uniform, homework, discipline, internal pastoral arrangements, sports and library facilities, and pupil achievement.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)
One questions the quality of the hon. Gentleman's proposal for a system of league tables that will explain the value added. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the suggestion by another Labour Front-Bench spokesman that, to make league tables more socially relevant, they ought to be grouped according to post code? Given that the Peabody estate and Belgrave square are both in SW1, is not that proposal a load of nonsense?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I am not a postman, but I understand that each post code encompasses 1,800 properties. I may point out that SW1 is not a post code but that SW1A OAA is a post code. I accept the hon. Gentleman's constructive criticism that a post code can be only a rough guide to the economic status of people living in a particular area. The truth is that there are not many highly mixed areas.
Our complaint with the Government's crude league tables is that they reveal only part of the picture. We would develop and publish performance tables showing how much added value a school has achieved. We shall highlight schools that show real improvement year on year. We are not against high standards or improvement, but we are against mediocrity. The children who suffer most from mediocrity are those attending schools in areas such as that which I represent, whose only life chances will come from the education that a Labour Government will make available to them.
§ Mr. Don Foster
I agree with the need to provide a wide range of information, but I understood the hon. 537 Gentleman to say that Labour would publish league tables based on crude test or examination results. In the past, Labour said that it would not do that.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I said that we would publish information in each of several different areas. That has been party policy and will continue to be so.
We shall do more than the Government, through help to schools that fall behind, to prevent them from becoming sink schools. Labour will act to lever up standards rather than perpetuate the fiction that the market will cater for the needs of children whose schools may be perceived in Government terms to be failing. An unemployed parent living in Liverpool cannot suddenly uproot and move to Leatherhead to ensure for his or her children the education that Conservative Members might think appropriate. We shall intervene to help schools.
I am sure that Conservative Members will raise the issue of grant-maintained schools. The head teacher of one well-known GMS—the Oratory school in west London—made a strong statement on intervention. Many people in education recognise the importance of intervention, but sadly they do not include the Government.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The Oratory school will be familiar to the Leader of the Opposition. As to league tables, I understood the hon. Gentleman to imply that a future Labour Government would not publish test and examination results in their current form. Will we return to the days when such information was suppressed?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
Quite the contrary. The hon. Gentleman could not have been listening. I said that, under our proposed freedom of information Act, we shall make much more information available. Our criticism is that the data currently provided are one-dimensional and do not give the information to which parents are entitled.
As to school standards, it is often a case of do as say, not as I do. One disturbing feature is the power and influence held by education quangos. Research by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) showed that 55 per cent. of the money spent on schools and colleges is channelled through unaccountable quangos, which means that taxpayers can no longer use their votes in local elections directly to influence school spending. A powerful new quango, the Funding Agency for Schools, has been established.
The Minister referred to the National Union of Teachers, and I presume that he holds the same views about other trade unions—which I would defend as having the right to represent their members. Our priority is to represent the interests of school children.
The FAS controls the funds and monitors the performance of schools that opt for grant-maintained status. Its chairman, Sir Christopher Benson, is chairman of the Sun Alliance group, which has given £280,000 to the Tory party in the past six years; a director of the MEPC property group, which gave £25,000 to the Conservative party in the 1992 general election; and chairman of the Costain group, which also donates to Tory funds. Other members of that supposedly impartial body are Stanley Kalms, chairman of Dixons, which gave £25,000 to the Conservatives at the last election; Edward Lister, Conservative leader of Wandsworth council; and Sir Robert Balchin, chairman of south-east Conservatives.
538 I shall not delve into the relationship between the GMS insurance company run by Sir Robert and Sun Alliance, because I am sure that Conservative Members are well acquainted with it. The Minister spoke about teaching unions, which perform the proper role of defending the working conditions of their members, and abused Labour for supposed links with such organisations. The public have a right to know the Government's relationship with so-called independent agencies.
The House would not expect me to say other than that the Government have gone wrong principally by being motivated by ideological experiments. The variety of U-turns that the Secretary of State has already made suggest that the right hon. Lady, unlike some of her predecessors, acknowledges that error, and that pre-eminent in her thinking, as with that of any right-minded person, is improving educational standards.
Hungry children do not make ideal pupils. When the Minister considers improving standards in schools, is he aware that one in nine children go to school without breakfast? Is he aware that one in six children go home at night and do not have a hot meal? Between 1979 and 1991–92, the amount of money spent on the provision of school meals has been cut by 58 per cent. That is a national disgrace. Not only has there been an expenditure cut, but many authorities provide only the most minimal school dinner service.
It is equally disgraceful that there have been no agreed national nutritional standards since 1990. I received free school dinners all of my school life. In fact, I enjoyed them so much that during the holidays I would go to the local dinner centre where, although it was a discretionary service, hot meals were laid on for many children. We cannot expect much at school from tired and hungry children.
I also worry about the effect on educational standards of the huge increase in the number of experienced teachers who are leaving the profession on health grounds. In 1984–85, 2,449 teachers resigned on health grounds and last year the figure was 5,535. I am sure that the Minister appreciates that teaching is become increasingly stressful. Those who suffer most are the teachers we can ill afford to lose—those with the most chalk-face experience.
I do not think that it is a coincidence that the huge increase in teacher resignations occurred at the same time as the many precipitate changes forced through by successive Secretaries of State. A snapshot survey was taken recently among Catholic head teachers in the Birmingham archdiocese. Overwhelmingly, stress is the biggest problem they face. When the matter was pursued further—I see the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) nodding in agreement—it was discovered that the stress resulted from—
§ Mr. Pawsey
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should make it clear that I was actually nodding in agreement with the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) who is sitting behind the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
Most head teachers ascribed their increased stress to the many unwanted changes that had been forced through in their schools, particularly since the Education Reform Act 1988 came into effect.
539 The Government have been complacent about many educational factors. They have certainly been complacent about the explosion in the number of student expulsions and suspensions in schools. Recent Ofsted figures show that the number has doubled in the past two years. The Minister should speak to his colleagues about it, because I certainly speak to mine. I try to visit many schools, and head teachers and governors say that they face increasing numbers of student expulsions and suspensions. Last week, I met a group of head teachers from Nottinghamshire who said that the biggest problem on the horizon for them was the increase in the number of pupils that they were having to expel and suspend because of behavioural difficulties.
Another important issue is post-16 education.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
As my hon. Friend says, the Minister did not mention it in his contribution—perhaps he ran out of time. Some 750,000 young people are outside education, training and work. That is a better measure of the Government's failure than the fallacious rhetoric of Ministers. We can add to that the scandal of student poverty: a whole generation of young people are being conditioned by Government policy to accept debt as a way of life.
The loan scheme is in chaos. It provides more for the quangocrats who run it than it provides for students. It is a conscious step along the road of denying working-class children access to higher education. They are squeezed at the start of the educational chain—at the nursery level—and they are now being squeezed towards the end of it.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Will he reassure the House that the Labour party will not introduce loans for student fees when we come to office?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I am sure that that is the case, but the question of future funding for higher and further education is a matter for our national policy commission. We shall not fall into the trap of providing ammunition for a thoroughly discredited Government to abuse during an election campaign.
§ Mr. Hendry
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on that point. He will be aware that the Labour party's Commission on Social Justice advised that there should be a charge for fees for people entering higher education. Is he specifically rejecting that recommendation or is he leaving his options open?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
That is a recommendation. We have well-established machinery for considering what party policy, and eventually what our manifesto, will be.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Davies) said, the discretionary grants system has become a lottery with very few prizes. The accident of where one lives determines what, if any, discretionary awards one will receive. The Department's own figures show, for example, that 10 London local authorities make no discretionary awards to 16 to 18-year-old students and 10 local authorities make no discretionary awards to students aged 19 and above.
540 Is it any wonder that young people are so alienated from our political system? It does not seem to be doing them any favours. Perhaps the Government hope that fragmentation of higher and further education will hide the problem, but I assure them that it is not hidden from us. We have to bear in mind the long-term effects of that alienation on not only the 750,000 people who form the education and training underclass, but the 2.5 million first-time voters who chose not to exercise their franchise at the last election. That statistic should be worrying for any political party.
I know that Conservative Members are tired of listening to me drone on about matters in which they have no interest because they can make little or no political capital from them, so I shall now move to the vexed question of grant-maintained status.
I take a very personal view about it, because I have been involved in two opt-out campaigns. I hark back to the Minister's earlier comments about the kind of information that local authorities release. In the first campaign, I had a dickens of a job obtaining even a list of parents—that was problem No. 1. Problem No. 2 was that, because of the head teacher's predisposition towards GM status, children were taking home propaganda to which we had virtually no access.
Ultimately, the school decided to go for grant-maintained status. The parents were sold on it principally because the Government offered the bribe that the school would jump the queue for single-site status.
The second example is instructive. It involves a school that, by the Government's own standards, is successful in terms of raw data scores. It was a simple matter to persuade parents that they had a winning school. Why should the school have changed its status, despite the best efforts of the governors and one or two people in the school, who wanted to go for grant-maintained status?
§ Mr. Pawsey
Has the hon. Gentleman read the piece in The Times Educational Supplement on 7 October 1994? The TES is not known to be a particular Government supporter, but it made it clear that the overwhelming majority of head teachers applied for grant-maintained status, not because of extra funding or, to use the hon, Gentleman's word, bribes, but because of the greater independence that grant-maintained schools enjoy. That is what draws them in. That is the principal benefit.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
If that were the case, why were the Government so keen to offer such schools extra funding? If it was not about extra finance for capital investment, why make the offer in the first place?
§ Mr. Pawsey
The hon. Gentleman invites me to speak again. I rest my case on what I have just said. Schools choose to become grant-maintained because they like the independence. It is not the money but the independence. Parents like the fact that schools can cut the apron strings that secure them to local education authorities. That is why parents vote for GM status.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
That obviously explains why West Monmouth school and schools like the one in Kirklees, despite the best efforts of the Government, have chosen 541 not to opt out. Despite pressure on schools to consider ballots every year, only just over 4 per cent. of them have taken that path. That shows how amazingly popular it is.
I should like to nail a few myths about the Labour party's view on grant-maintained schools. First, it is said that we encourage people not to send their children to GM schools. That has never been, and will never be, the Labour party's policy. We believe in parental choice. The idiocy of the suggestion that we would go down a different line is evidenced by the fact that people could live in a region or in a local authority area where there is no alternative to a GM school. What is a parent living in that region supposed to do?
The Labour party's view has been that we object to the way in which grant-maintained schools have been given preferential funding, to the way in which they are no longer under any form of local accountability, and to the way in which have been placed under the direct control of the Secretary of State for Education.
§ Mr. Booth
If the Labour party is seriously telling the House that it is in favour of choice, why does it want to get rid of assisted places, city technology colleges and a range of other choices that the Conservative party has introduced? Why did the Labour party abolish grammar schools in the first place?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
It did so because it believed in choice for all of the people, not just for a select few—it is as simple as that.
§ Mr. Duncan
The hon. Gentleman must make clear his party's policy on grant-maintained status, because the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said:We are against inequity wherever it exists, and that is why we oppose grant-maintained status."—[0fficial Report, 21 November 1994; Vol. 250, c. 430]His opposition had nothing to do with the amount of money that was offered to schools to choose grant-maintained status. It was about GM status in principle.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
The hon. Gentleman is living proof that the new emphasis on English in the national curriculum is important. "Inequity" referred to inequity of funding. We have two objections to grant-maintained schools, one of which is that such status implies that schools will receive preferential funding. Hon. Members will be happy to know that the next Labour Government will be with us shortly. We have to look only at the polls showing that the Labour party has a 40 per cent. lead to realise that, which gives us some succour this morning. The next Labour Government guarantee to do two things in relation to GM schools. There will be no preferential funding of any sort. Secondly, GM schools will be brought into a framework of local democratic accountability.
We shall not go into the matter in the confrontational manner that the Government have shown in recent years. We shall speak to GM schools. We are happy to do so. We are happy to reach a consensus on how to bring them back into an equitable system. Not only that, but we are happy to speak to voluntary-aided schools.
Indeed, I would go further. We are happy to speak to the 300-plus private schools that are considering their future existence, not simply, I hasten to add, because of our views on those schools' charitable status or because 542 of our view on assisted places, but because they realise that, even under the Government's market philosophy, the country is over-supplied with private schools. That is perhaps why, in my part of the world, two schools, the Upton convent school and, I think, St. Anselm's college, are considering opting back into the state system.
§ Mr. Duncan
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be highly inequitable if a school were to retain its GM status and yet were to enjoy no extra money for the duties that it has taken on which the local authority used to perform on its behalf? If those schools assume some of the responsibilities of the local education authority, should they not be compensated for it, and would it not be inequitable if they were not?
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I do not know whether to blame myself or the hon. Gentleman for the confusion between us, because I think that the matter is rather simple. We are talking about all schools being treated in a fair, honest and open-handed way and schools catering to the needs of individual schools and, more importantly, to pupils while catering to the wider community. One of the problems with GM schools is that they increasingly complicate the sort of strategic provision that needs to be made.
I should like to emphasise that we shall have discussions with all schools, whether local authority, grant-maintained or private, so that we achieve what the vast majority of people involved in education want—an equitable, accountable and efficient education system.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I am just coming to my closing remarks, and I have taken many interventions.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has endorsed education as the passion of his future Labour Government, and rightly so. It is the route to not just economic success but personal fulfilment for the children who go through those schools and, later, on to higher education and beyond—that applies not just to some of our children but to all of them. They are our future. We have no right to do anything to jeopardise their life chances. That has been the Government's sorry record, but we are determined to give hope back to our young people and to give them faith and a stake in our society.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. May I explain to the House, with apologies, that I have to leave shortly after speaking for I have engagements in my constituency, particularly with children and others. I hope that the House will forgive me for that.
The rise in standards speaks for itself when one considers the results of testing at all ages, particularly the ages laid down under the national curriculum. GCSE results speak for themselves, with standards rising at a rapid rate in the number of children gaining A to C grades, to the extent that people are even wondering whether the marking is too lenient. I doubt it. I think that standards are rising. The same is true of A-levels. In 1979 at a school not very far from here, 35 children went on to universities; this year, the figure was 142. That is the level of the Government's achievement, and it shows that standards are rising.
543 I went to a village school. When people call for independent schools to have the sort of assessment that is applied to grant-maintained schools, it is necessary to look at their good results. After all, the proof of the pudding is, in the end, in its eating. Their results speak for themselves.
The Labour party has long argued for neighbourhood comprehensive schools and, as far as I know, that is still its policy. The Labour party wants a monopoly, uniform system of comprehensive schools to which local children automatically go. What choice is there in that? If a Labour Government were to apply that policy, the Leader of the Opposition would not be allowed to send his child eight miles across London to a school in another area.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I am intrigued by what the hon. Gentleman said, which I believe is a reference to the excellent results of grant-maintained schools. What evidence is there that their results are excellent when compared with those of other schools?
§ Mr. Greenway
The results of grant-maintained schools are there for all to see, but I was talking about independent schools. I thought that I had made that clear, but, if not, I do so now.
If there were a uniform system of secondary education and parents could choose only their neighbourhood comprehensive school—if that is no longer Labour party policy I should be grateful to hear a repudiation—what parental choice would there be? Under that policy, the Leader of the Opposition would lose the choice that we have all defended.
Northolt high school is my constituency is grant-maintained. It saves £70,000 a year on cleaning alone now that the local authority—Ealing Labour council as it was and, unfortunately, as it now is again—no longer has responsibility for it. As an independent state school, it now runs its own cleaning services and saves £70,000 a year, which it would presumably lose were the Labour party to have its way. That money is now spent on books, pencils, rubbers and teachers.
Eighty-eight per cent. of secondary and 80 per cent. of primary grant-maintained schools have reported increased numbers of pupils. All primary schools and 77 per cent. of secondary schools in the GM sector are employing more teachers and 65 per cent. have introduced new subjects. More than half of them are spending more on books and 60 per cent. of GM schools achieved scores above the average of five GCSE grades A to C. I hope that that answers the question posed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). If he did not hear it, I hope that he will read the record.
As I said, the Labour party's policy was and is based on neighbourhood comprehensive schools. I lived in east London for some time at the Oxford university settlement in Bethnal Green. In that area, Labour's policy meant the elimination of the excellent Parmeter grammar school, which was a two-form entry school attended by 60 children a year. The Labour Government argued that the school had to be eliminated because its very existence and the fact that bright children could go there was wrecking the neighbourhood comprehensives. Labour has always believed that all children, especially the bright ones, must 544 be made to go to state schools because that in itself will raise the schools' standards. However, they do not apply that rule to themselves.
The education officer for Islington is a former assistant master of mine and a fine fellow. The hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) will know plenty about him. His job will be made more difficult by the fact that the Leader of the Opposition has not chosen an Islington school for his son but wants to send him across London. What does that do to my former colleague's attempts to do a good job in Islington and to Labour's argument that bright children must attend local schools in order to raise standards? When it comes down to it, the Labour party runs away, which is deplorable and hypocritical.
I shall refer to grant-maintained schools again if I have time, but I wish to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Walton. He rightly said that the permanent exclusion of children from school is a matter of great importance. We now have a much more acceptable and honest system in that local authorities are required to provide alternative education for those children. Therefore, I hope that the situation will settle down after the present explosion of permanent exclusions.
I do not like children being excluded from school because, as all hon. Members who were formerly in the teaching profession will know, the children who are excluded tend to be the very ones who most need to be in school. The Government have now introduced a legal requirement that they must have schooling. I welcome that and will wait to see how the system works.
We must re-examine school discipline. No satisfactory alternative has been found to corporal punishment, which was a quick and good way to deal with some cases of indiscipline. It is not a panacea, and I am not suggesting that it solves everything, but if a boy had a stroke of the cane he would not need to be excluded or suspended. I must stress that I am not talking about brutality, of which no one would approve. However, an alternative may exist in the new requirement placed on local authorities.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
What does the hon. Gentleman make of the suggestion that there is a relationship between the increasing number of exclusions and the desire to remove from a school low achievers who might damage that school's eventual league table position? Does he accept that a school could be tempted to think in that way?
§ Mr. Greenway
No, I do not accept that. With the exception of one, all secondary schools in my constituency have grant-maintained status. They are doing extremely well, but they take their fair share of pupils from all ability ranges, including children with social and other problems. Whatever system was devised, they would do well.
I believe that school journeys to activity centres and outward bound courses are very important. They are a crucial part of a child's education. Some children benefit enormously—and all could do so—from such courses on which they compete against themselves, each other or the environment. I am thinking of activities such as canoeing, mountaineering and horse riding.
When I was the deputy headmaster at Sir William Collins school in King's Cross—with which the hon. Member for Barking might be familiar as we drew children from Islington—I devised a horse riding and stable management course paid for by the ratepayers of 545 London through the London county council, as it then was, and the Inner London education authority. It was a great success.
However, horse riding is one of the most dangerous sports, so the ILEA and the LCC and its excellent inspectorate devised a system whereby no child could be taught at a horse riding centre that was not approved by the British Horse Society. That guaranteed that the teaching was always undertaken by a qualified instructor; that the horses were safe and sensible—so far as one can ever be sure of that—and that the teaching conditions were acceptable.
Teachers who accompany children on such courses must have some understanding of what the children will be required to do. I was allowed to make suggestions to the LCC and ILEA, and we devised courses to ensure that every teacher who accompanied children on curriculum riding and stable management courses knew what the proper standards should be and what was safe and unsafe. Teachers were part of the means of achieving those proper standards for children. All the children were required, for example, to wear a hard hat. If they did not do so or did not want to do so, they were not allowed to ride. Many of the girls did not like to wear a riding hat because they thought it was a bit unglamorous, but it is now law that children under 14 must wear a hard hat when riding.
It is important to ensure that the teacher accompanying children on adventure trips, as well as those teachers who provide the training at the centres, are properly qualified, because that helps to reassure parents that tragedies such as the canoeing tragedy which was resolved before the courts yesterday do not recur.
In my 23 years of teaching, I took 40 groups of children on various adventure courses—they must be seen as courses, not holidays and trips. I took them skiing to 15 different countries, as well as on courses to learn how to ride, climb and sail. In every case, I made it my business—I was not required to do so by the LCC—to ensure that the children were taught by people qualified in the relevant discipline. As their teacher, I always took part in the activity as well. All too often, teachers do not participate, so the children do not dedicate their attention to the activity, which leads to trouble.
§ Ms Hodge
I am interested to note how the hon. Gentleman has described ILEA's excellent record of providing extra-curricular activities in inner London for children who often could not afford or did not have the opportunity to take part in such activities. Does he agree that it is regrettable that, because of the pressures on time in the school day and in the school year caused by the national curriculum and the greater pressures on finances, most children from inner London no longer enjoy the opportunities that were available to them when the hon. Member was a teacher under ILEA?
§ Mr. Greenway
I do not accept that. All children in inner London have access to such activities through one means or another. I need not go into the whys and wherefores, but people raise money to help individual children—I am one who does just that. Such groups have always existed, because trips were not just offered through the benevolence of the LCC, in the name of the ratepayers, and ILEA. I remind the hon. Member for Barking that although ILEA was a good education 546 authority in its day, by the time it was disbanded it was reviled for its low standards and the under-achievement of its children, which it facilitated and tolerated.
If teachers who take children on a ski trip understand about skiing and snow craft, they will know why it is not possible to ski in certain places because of avalanches. It is not always possible for a course teacher, who may not speak the same language as the children, to explain that properly. People who teach children soccer may be professional instructors from football clubs or school teachers who are required to have the Football Association's refereeing certificate. We also expect those who teach cricket to have the Middlesex county cricket club's coaching certificate and for those teachers who coach pupils in other sports to have the relevant certificate. It is therefore right that teachers who accompany children on adventure trips should have a relevant qualification in the activity taught at those adventure centres.
§ Mr. Mackinlay
The hon. Gentleman is a decent person, and I agree with much of what he has said. I believe, however, that many school trips are too ambitious, because children are sent across the continent. The hon. Gentleman has spoken about ski trips, but most children will not keep up that exercise when they are older, and it costs a lot to hire equipment. We should have more school trips across the channel so that children can experience another country, another language and another culture without having to go too far across the continent. Why can we not have more trips around the United Kingdom? Many kids do not see outside the south-east of England and do not enjoy the rich cultural differences of the United Kingdom, which is a great pity.
§ Mr. Greenway
School journeys of an educational nature, not trips, are important whether they are made inside or outside the United Kingdom.
I took 34 children from King's Cross to the Tartar mountains of Poland to ski. A lot of those boys were poor and they took on jobs, such as delivering newspapers, to pay for the trip. We made that trip into a great school project—in fact, some children made it an individual or family project. In every way, such journeys are enormously helpful to a school. I also took children to Czechoslovakia and to France.
There are many aspects to an adventure centre journey. It is not just a question of learning how to do an activity, but how children build up to that journey and what they get out of it, including language enrichment and the experience of being with people of a different culture. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) tempts me to go down a rich road, but I shall resist the temptation.
§ Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)
First, I apologise and say that I am genuinely disappointed because I probably will be unable to stay long enough for the concluding speeches. I have a surgery in Hemsworth in the early afternoon and I must get back for it.
I should like to take a somewhat picaresque look at the debate on education. In view of many of the remarks that have been made, we should recall how universal education came about. It was not because of a wise and percipient House of Commons—indeed, least of all that—but because local people urged upon their communities the value of education.
547 Education grew from the grass roots. It sprang up from there: it was a natural creation. A lot of people, including many Irish immigrants, worked extremely hard to ensure that there was literacy in the working classes. The old elementary schools were founded and did a fine job. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have one of the oldest elementary buildings still standing in your constituency. Whenever we talk about education, it is important that we relate it to local people as well as to our national aims.
I should like to examine two important aspects of education that have not been considered this morning. The first is the teaching force.
As the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) declared an interest, I suppose that I had better do the same. My interest is that I am an adviser to all my constituents in Hemsworth on education and to no teaching union. Teaching unions have a proper job to perform—I do not knock them in any way—but they are not the key to the success of the teaching force. We really must do something about dynamising that resource.
Our document proposes a general teaching council. That is not a new idea, or something that has been instantly thought up. It has been around for a long time. The importance of a general teaching council is that it could unite teachers who are currently fragmented into their various unions, as the hon. Member for Bath illustrated in declaring his interest. It could look at what teachers do and say to them, "You must have pride in yourselves. This is how you can improve yourselves. This is the assistance that we can give." A general teaching council would not be about sacking teachers but about giving teachers enhanced standards. There are good teachers, mediocre teachers and poor teachers. A general teaching council could bring up best practice to ensure that, within the teaching force, we could have pride in the profession. I make no political point when I say that it is objectively true that, for one reason or another, teachers have become extremely depressed about their standing. A general teaching council could give that pride back. It could provide practical courses. It could ensure the sort of the training that is not occurring now. It could be a body well qualified to recommend training.
A general teaching council is important in enhancing the standard of teaching of all our children. Equally important is a British association for the advancement of education. That is another proposal we make. I accept that it would be a quango, but it would certainly not be a political quango. We would consider putting in charge a person such as Claus Moser and peopleof that ilk, including representatives of parents and teachers to ensure that teaching and the general aims of the Government's policies in teaching were put into a world perspective as well as a national perspective.
There is a general problem in educational research. Some of our colleges of higher education have become so squeezed that less and less educational research is being done except in very specialised areas. No one is able to sit back and take a long, cool and calm look at practices in other countries and whether they would apply here. I am bound to say that some of the experiments properly carried out in schools rely on American experience and research, but that research has not been confirmed here.
548 That can be dangerous. The research can apply and the experiment can work well, but what is desirable for New York is not necessarily desirable for Hemsworth.
Indeed, I would go further. This is a tripartite point. Far too often, we have had a look at London and what was wrong with the Greater London council and the Inner London education authority, and then decided to apply that to the entire country. That is wrong. I hope that, in their first attempt to put right policy on nursery schools, the Government do not fall into the trap of seeing what works in London and letting it go forth. That would be a disaster.
The curriculum has been much on everyone's mind. I must confess that I am not a great devotee of the national curriculum and particularly not of the way in which it has been expanded. In his interventions, the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) showed precisely what could be wrong with the national curriculum and testing. What he talked about was a sort of quiz show: we put together a body of knowledge, and when the various buttons are pressed people bring out the appropriate response.
That is not education. It is stuffing information into people. It is not drawing out of people their capabilities, but putting in bits of information. It is not teaching them. I do not say that the national curriculum is completely bound up along that path, but it is in grave danger of going that way.
The link between the curriculum and testing has to be carefully examined to make sure that we do not get in the way of real education in the process. I have no objections whatever to testing. It is perfectly valid to test. Most teachers did their own tests before testing was introduced, because it was a quick and easy way of finding out whether our pupils understood what had been said.
One of the difficulties with grant-maintained schools is that they have diminished the ability of education authorities to provide certain specialist services. The balance between the education authority and individual schools must be maintained. That includes the provision to every school of services for children with special needs and, perhaps above all, what we used to call truancy officers and now call educational welfare officers.
Educational welfare officers are crucial in solving the problem of truancy. It is a genuine problem, particularly in inner cities or deprived areas. It is much more likely that people will truant in those areas than elsewhere. We need a good supply of educational welfare officers.
Two things militate against that. One is that LEAs are sometimes too small to afford the experienced team which is necessary. The second is that that is compounded when central money is taken away from LEAs and given to grant-maintained schools. LEAs have to perform a service without having the money to do so, so the service declines. We have certainly seen that happen in the past five years. I hope that the Minister will take the problem seriously and examine it to see what can be done. Of course, what can be done is simply to provide extra resources.
The same problem occurs with LEA educational advisers. LEA educational advice services have been run down. Clearly, an authority which is strapped for cash will get rid of such people first, because they are not in schools. That has consequences for the curriculum and for the quality of education in the local schools. An outstanding example of that is in religious education.
549 Religious education in state schools is in a considerable crisis because we do not have enough full-time RE teachers. We do not have enough people who may teach physics, French or English but who are willing to do a couple of periods of RE. That is not necessarily because they are opposed to religious education, but because they are not confident about how to teach it. They are certainly not confident about teaching it to the quality which is essential if religious education in schools is to be worth while.
Previously, that function was fulfilled by local authority advisers in religious education. They were able to run very good courses on a curriculum that had been agreed locally among a multitude of Churches. That worked very well, but if one is cutting one's local authority advisers, they are the people who will go before one's adviser in physics, one's adviser in English or one's adviser in mathematics. I do not blame local authorities, of whatever hue, for doing it that way round, but it is a problem of which we should be aware, and about which it is crucial that we do something.
On the principle of grant-maintained schools, I hope that I have put grant-maintained into a specific context, so that it is not simply about grant-maintained. The policy of the Labour party, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) said, is absolutely clear: when we come into Government, grant-maintained schools will return to local democratic accountability. There is absolutely no need for grant-maintained schools to worry about that. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) had something to say about that.
I quote from a letter from a head teacher whose school, incidentally, is one of the top schools, whose results, even on the raw statistics, in a working class area, are as good as any:I read with interest a front page article in the Times Educational Supplement last week which refers to Grant Maintained Schools.My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) isquoted as saying 'I want to know the underlying reasons for schools becoming Grant Maintained, apart from those which are purely ideological'. I offer the following comments which may be of some help…I recently attended a conference for Catholic Grant Maintained Schools. Though we are not a Grant Maintained school and are more than happy to be within the LEA maintained sector it is important that we are made aware of the alternatives which are open to us. It was in this sense that I attended the meeting in Warrington. I listened to several of my colleagues extolling the virtues of Grant Maintained status but was struck with the very small difference between their independence and our own. Most of those Catholic schools which are Grant Maintained took the step before having any deep experience of LMS and have therefore not had the freedom as LMS Voluntary Aided schools that we have enjoyed … None of them had done anything which we either had not done or could not have done had we chosen to do so.The only exception being that generous government grants direct to the school had made it possible for them to replace and renew accommodation and facilities. It made me quite envious. My envy was short lived since it is clear that government resources at the disposal of these schools in such generous amounts has denied them to more deserving schools: hardly the generous sharing or concern for the weak required of Christians. It was comforting too to 550 appreciate the extra bureaucratic procedures which are involved and the demands made in terms of accounting procedures in order that the government department or FAS can be satisfied.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Robin Squire)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not least because I also spoke at that conference, and he reminds me of an entertaining time.
Although none of us would deny the author of that letter the absolute right to hold the opinion that he or she expresses, it must also be said that GM heads move themselves among a gathering of other heads who remain in LEA schools and are well aware of, as the author of that letter would put it, the perceived advantages of being an LEA school. In spite of that, as the hon. Gentleman knows from the most recent Times Educational Supplement survey, a massive 90 per cent. or more have no intention or wish to go back under the LEA, in spite of knowing those perceived apparent advantages.
§ Mr. Enright
Of course that is true, but as soon as funding becomes fair instead of weighted, it will be a very different question.
Let me say this about the selfishness of some grant-maintained schools. We know, because we have the statistics—the Government kindly provided them to us—that the biggest increase in expulsions from schools happened in Essex from grant-maintained schools: a massive 70 per cent. increase. That happened because grant-maintained schools do not want to tackle difficult cases, and the difficult cases are therefore being left to be considered by the other schools. That is a serious dilemma.
We have a serious problem to confront of disruptive and difficult schoolchildren. That has to be considered in a regional context rather than a national context, because that is the best way of tackling it. We must prevent what is currently happening—people being kicked out of grant-maintained schools and their pieces picked up by schools that have chosen to remain in local authority control.
I am conscious that many other hon. Members are waiting to speak, so I will not mention many of the subjects that I had wished to. However, I make one plea to the Minister—an eternal plea of mine. That is a plea for the teaching of modern languages in primary schools, which could have the most tremendous effect.
It is not impossible to put together a strategy with local authority advisers, or something of that ilk, to help to teach specific primary school teachers how to introduce language. We could in that way get it going sooner rather than later. It is an important lesson that we can learn from the continent, and I hope that the Minister will consider it carefully.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I ask the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) to excuse me if I do not follow him entirely in his line of argument, although, as always, it is interesting to hear that argument developed, especially about education.
I start by congratulating the Government most sincerely on the steps that have been taken, not only in recent years, but in the past dozen or so years, to improve standards in, education. I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools to pass on personally 551 to my hon. Friend the Minister of State my congratulations on his review of what has been done, which was comprehensive and persuasive, in spite of some of the shrapnel that came across the Floor of the House during that review.
I wish to link with those congratulations, congratulations to the schools in my constituency, none of which are grant-maintained—the secondary schools in Lewes, Ringmer, Newhaven and Seaford, and small and large primary schools throughout the constituency, which consistently provide considerable high-quality education for their children, often in old-fashioned buildings. I have never attached great importance to old-fashioned buildings—I was educated in a very old-fashioned building, albeit in the private sector—but the teachers give absolutely first-rate education, and that is already showing in some of the commentary about them and the ranking of them that is now being made available.
I should like to end my congratulations by applauding the Government on their promise to provide those involved in teaching and education with some stability now. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) referred to the stresses that the teaching fraternity and sorority have had to suffer in recent years in adapting to change. There is no doubt that it has been stressful, particularly for older teachers, who have naturally become more set in their ways. It will be welcome news to them to hear that there is now to be a period of consolidation and catching of breath, and a digestion of the steps that have been taken.
I should like to make three specific points. The first relates to the teaching of mathematics. Not only is mathematics a good discipline per se, but it is essential for the pursuit of physical sciences and engineering in all its parts. Mathematics is a crucial part of the education of students, whatever they are going to do in the rest of their lives. It is particularly important if they are to pursue studies in engineering and become the engineers of the future. I do not think that I have to remind the House of the crucial part that engineering plays in the prosperity of our industry and, through that, the prosperity of manufacturing and of our country.
A few years ago, Sussex university, which is situated in and near my constituency, had to devote the best part of a term of a new intake to bringing the students up to the required standard for their courses, particularly those studying engineering, mathematics and physical sciences. The position is improving, but it needs to get better still.
I congratulate the Government on lowering the barriers between what has historically been referred to as education, and what has recently been referred to as training. Education, re-education, training and retraining are part and parcel of the lifelong effort of preparing oneself for the changing years to come. In that context, schooling, further education, university, the importance of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications and schemes such as company training schemes—a magnificent one has been developed at Brighton university, which now runs the largest company training centre in the country—cannot be underestimated .
The second point that I wish to raise—nursery schooling—was mentioned by the hon. Member for Walton. I welcome the Government's reconversion to nursery schooling. I call it "reconversion", because many 552 hon. Members will remember that a Conservative Education Minister who went on to become Prime Minister was committed to the theory and importance of nursery schooling. Sadly, the aim was not achieved during her period of premiership, but, under the guidance and dedication of the present Prime Minister, who has committed himself to it, the policy has now reappeared as an important thrust within the educational system.
Both nurseries and schooling are important. We are not talking about simply care, play or teaching, but a subtle combination of all three. Nursery schooling is therefore different from primary school learning and teaching. Good nursery schooling is different from pre-entry school classes. I stress that point, because it would be a mistake for the Government, when planning nursery schooling on a broader basis than currently exists, to think that it is akin to, or can be made up by, the extension of pre-school entry teaching.
It is particularly important to note its difference in terms of pupil-teacher requirements—a subject touched on in another context. It is generally accepted that there has to be a higher teacher-pupil ratio in nursery schooling than in primary and secondary schooling. We must take that into account when planning.
Nursery schooling is different from playgroups, although play is an important part of nursery schooling and developing a child's character. There have been worrying reports recently that the Government might choose the Playgroups Association, which does a marvellous job in organising, supervising and professionally running play groups, as the basis for an extension of nursery schooling. That association and its members do not have the awareness or capacity to teach. The essential element of nursery schooling that distinguishes it from playgroups, creches, nurseries and care of any sort for children of pre-school age is the teaching element.
I think it was the hon. Member for Walton who said that nursery schooling was not just important per se in extending educational years downwards. Only nursery schooling will enable children to obtain the maximum benefit from whatever schooling they go on to attend—primary, secondary and further education.
A magnificent piece of research from America—which traced people from nursery school age up to, I think, 30—shows that those that have attended nursery schooling have done better in life. Their families have been more secure, and they have become better members of their communities. No element of education is more important than nursery schooling. I hope that the Government will quickly take steps to provide the facility for all four-year-olds and, as soon as possible, extend it to three-year-olds as well.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a recent interview that the Secretary of State gave on the David Frost programme, when two significant factors emerged? First, the Secretary of State refused to give a timetable for the introduction of nursery education for the children of all those who want it. Secondly, she could not even define exactly what was meant by nursery education.
§ Mr. Rathbone
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was probably being wise in taking those two positions. First, the provision should start when we are able to do so. No one in the House or anywhere in the country would want to pick up a policy proposition—to 553 start making nursery schooling available for all those who want it for their children between the ages of four and five—until the necessary facilities are available. It would be infantile to adopt any other attitude.
As to the definition of nursery schooling, the Government are still on a learning curve in terms of nursery schooling, because they have taken a long time to accept the need for it. I doubt that there is a complete awareness of what nursery schooling is, even though I have offered the Government assistance over the years, and wrote a pamphlet on the subject five or six years ago. I hope that I have made a little contribution to the decisions that have been taken so far.
I believe that an entirely sensible reaction was given by an extremely sensible Secretary of State to a probing question designed merely to hook a politician and to persuade her to make a commitment that she could then be shown not to have lived up to.
My third point has to do with health education. I have corresponded with the Minister—in his previous capacity as well as his present one—for many years about the need for better health education to tackle the increasing problem of drug and substance misuse. I have had my differences with the Government, especially over the withdrawal of funding for what used to be drugs education co-ordinators and subsequently became health education co-ordinators. I could not understand how that decision was ever arrived at—but let bygones be bygones.
Under the new drug strategy, there is a re-emphasis of the need for the Government to come to grips with demand reduction. Demand for drugs and other substances can be reduced only by better health education in schools. So I tip my hat to the Minister and the Secretary of State for their consultative paper, put out by the Department for Education, on future health education. I wish them well in their efforts.
I also value the encouragement and help being given to schools to persuade them to adopt a policy on this subject. It is crucial that schools have a policy; it is only against such a policy that teachers can make their best health education contribution, and parents can know how schools intend to react to circumstances as they arise.
In this context, I should like to recommend a good guide for governors of schools produced by the London Drugs Forum only a few weeks ago. If the Minister has not seen it, I suggest that it is worth studying. Perhaps the Government should help to ensure its wider distribution around the country.
Two things worry me still. First, too many political speeches claim that drugs education is included in the curriculum. Technically that may be so—it is a small part of the science curriculum—but that does not constitute health education. As part of the curriculum, the subject is taught in the same way as facts about amoebae, frogs, birds or bees. We are deceiving ourselves and attempting to deceive others if we attempt to argue otherwise. Information about drug misuse and attitudes towards it is not included in the biological curriculum. Both are important in health education. Every teacher in every school must be in a position to make some sort of contribution.
We all know that each pupil in a school enjoys a special relationship with a particular teacher. If that relationship does not permit the teacher to understand a drugs problem and react positively to it, teachers will clearly not be equipped to make their best contribution.
554 My second worry concerns the amount of funding for the new Government scheme for the teaching of teachers. It is likely—although not certain—that education authorities will experience a shortfall in the funds needed to mount, and successfully to execute, a teaching of teachers scheme so that there will be a teacher in each school who is proficient in teaching better health to its pupils.
Just as nursery education is the best foundation for the rest of education and of life, so a better appreciation of the value of good health is the foundation for a healthier life, and the only way we shall ever get to grips with the problems of drug misuse. Young people must be persuaded never to get involved with drugs in the first place.
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate, if at times somewhat confusing. I have rarely listened to a Conservative Member speak with whom I have found myself in absolute agreement, but such was the case as I listened to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). I suspect that he will not agree with everything that I intend to say, however.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Lewes about the importance of a period of stability and reflection in our education service. He was also absolutely right about the importance of mathematics in the curriculum. As a former physics teacher, I entirely share his thoughts on that. I also welcomed his comments on nursery education, and the crucial distinction that he drew between it and, on the one hand, early entry into reception class, and on the other, playgroups. He noted that nursery education is the key to providing people with the right start.
I also share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety that the Government may try to meet the Prime Minister's commitment by way of providing major financial support for the Playgroups Association instead of providing nursery education. Like the hon. Gentleman, however, I welcome the Conservative party's reconversion to the idea of nursery education. I know, too, that the hon. Gentleman's views on health education and drugs will be widely shared in this House.
I said that this had been a slightly confused debate, but there have also been several points of agreement—although I was not always entirely sure whether the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) agreed with the rest of us. Nevertheless, I certainly agreed with what the Minister of State said about the purpose of the whole educational endeavour.
He talked of enabling every individual to develop his or her potential. That was the key, he said, to what education was about. The Liberal Democrat policy document states:Our objective is to enable each individual to achieve his or her full potential by creating a first class education for all, in which quality is the key. We aim to provide not just excellence for a select few, but excellence for all.No doubt the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State would entirely agree with that. So when we discuss how to raise standards in education, we are debating the means, not the ends. That is where the major differences between the political parties arise.
It is therefore important that each political party be clear, internally and with a wider audience, about what means it favours. I agree with the Minister and with 555 Conservative Members who have said that there is a great deal of confusion in Labour party policy on a number of issues—
§ Mr. Hendry
The hon. Gentleman expresses much of what we think when he talks about this confusion. He did, however, tell the Times Educational Supplement that it wasdifficult to disagree with a word she"—referring to the former Labour education spokesman—says".When the interviewer told the hon. Gentleman that it was difficult to see daylight between their two parties' policies, the hon. Gentleman agreed: "Yes—embarrassing, isn't it?" How has he come to realise that Labour's policies are confusing—or is he trying to tell us that the policies of his party are equally confusing?
§ Mr. Foster
The hon. Gentleman's intervention allows me to put on the record, a year after I put it on record, the last time that a Conservative Member mentioned that quote, how it came about.
The hon. Gentleman takes it out of context. I was agreeing with the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who had spoken about the importance of nursery education. The hon. Member for Lewes would have had difficulty disagreeing with a single word of what the hon. Member for Dewsbury said at that conference, at which I was present and where I made the comments that the hon. Gentleman has quoted.
I disagree a great deal with the hon. Member for Dewsbury, and recently I have disagreed with some of her colleagues who now speak for Labour on education. There seems to be much disagreement between members of the Labour party on the issue. There is nothing wrong with a political party saying that it is important to rethink policies. That is right, and I admit that my party is having a rethink on a number of issues. I said at my party's conference that we would need to have a major reconsideration of our higher education policies, and especially its funding.
It is proper to admit that one is considering changes. However, it is not helpful for some to make clear to all and sundry that major changes are going on, while others try to pretend that they are not. Labour has been challenged on a number of issues, and those challenges need to be answered. I hope that, in winding up for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) will give clear answers.
For example, the issue of grant-maintained schools has not been properly addressed. I think we are all aware that Labour's shadow spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), recently sent a letter of reassurance to all Labour Members, which stated:I thought it would be helpful for you to know that there has been no change of policy in relation to the events of the last few days.That was specifically in relation to grant-maintained schools.
556 I am reliably informed that, a couple of days after the hon. Gentleman sent that letter, Mr. Simon Crine, the general secretary of the Fabian Society, said that a debate about future education policy is now raging behind the scenes among the leadership. He is quoted as saying:People were wondering what to do about opted-out schools. Some people seem to think the future lies with them. Tony seems to have made the decision for us.There is certainly confusion within the Labour party.
One question typifies the uncertainty that many of us feel, and I hope that the hon. Member for Yardley will answer it, either in an intervention or when she is summing up. It is the puzzle that senior educationists within the Labour party have about grant-maintained schools.
Perhaps it was best summed up a couple of weeks ago, at a meeting of Labour's consultative forum, which was attended by various education experts. I am reliably informed that Mr. Maxwell Bird, who is Labour's vice-chairman of the ACC education committee, said:Unless there is a clear-cut Labour party policy returning opt-out schools to the LEAs, there could be a rush to opt out before the schools are handed over to the unitary authorities.
§ Mr. Enright
In view of our policy on devolution and regional government, will the hon. Gentleman allow that, in view of the current problems facing the Government over the reorganisation of local government, it is extremely difficult to forecast what form of government there will be when we take over? Therefore, it is difficult to say categorically that we would put this into one structure and that into another. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the ultimate aim is to put it in a regional context.
§ Mr. Foster
The hon. Member adds yet another dimension. The problem is that Labour's spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Brightside, stated categorically in a letter to all Labour Members that there is no change in policy. But we know from meetings with Labour education spokesmen in LEAs that there is talk merely of coming into a local democratically accountable framework. However, it is not specified whether they will be local education authorities.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) who is assisting the leader of the Labour party, recently gave out briefings stating that Labour was not in the business of obliging grant-maintained schools to return to local authority control. That information is on the record. There is considerable confusion. The hon. Member for Hemsworth now says that the policy may be to go into regional government, and that adds a fourth or fifth dimension of uncertainty.
§ Ms Morris
The hon. Gentleman should know about holes.
I am happy to put the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) out of his misery. I am touched by the great amount of interest shown by hon. Members in Labour's education policy. Hon. Members anticipate, as we do, that there will soon be a Labour Government. Their interest is touching.
557 The hon. Member for Bath quoted Labour's spokesperson on education as saying that the policy on grant-maintained schools had not changed, and that Labour's policy is to bring them back into a democratic framework. The hon. Gentleman must accept that that is our policy. There will always be an exchange of views about how that will be done, but the letter that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) circulated earlier this week contains Labour's policy. The purpose of the shadow Secretary of State for Education is to give Labour's policy.
There is no way that we will go back to the position of five, 10 or 15 years ago. Things have changed, and local authorities have changed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) said, they will continue to change after local authority reorganisation. Our debate is about the nature of the framework, and the relationship between schools and their communities. The bottom line is that they will be accountable to local communities.
§ Mr. Foster
The hon. Lady's intervention may save time in her winding-up speech. I am grateful for that clarification, but it does not help many people who do not know what it means when they are told that there will be a democratic framework.
Does it mean that grant-maintained schools will be brought back into LEA control? I tell Conservative Members who have been heckling me that my party's policy is quite clear. We will remove grant-maintained status, and those schools will be brought back under LEA control; the activities of LEAs will be streamlined so that they become light-touch strategic planning bodies.
§ Mr. Pawsey
There must be roughly about 650,000 children currently being educated in grant-maintained schools, which means that there are more than 1 million parents. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously telling the House that the free and democratic elections that led to the schools becoming grant-maintained schools will go down the drain? Is he really saying that the Liberal Democrats—I ignore the Labour party for a moment—agree with that? I find that truly staggering, and very much hope that those 1 million parents will listen with care to what the hon. Gentleman will say, because it will undoubtedly influence a substantial number of them when they come to cast their votes at any general election.
§ Mr. Foster
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me the opportunity to put the matter on the record. Before I do so, it is slightly bizarre of the hon. Gentleman to talk about the democratic decisions of those parents, because the Conservative party will never agree to have genuine democracy on the issue and give parents the right not only to vote out of LEA control but, equally, to vote back in if they so wish.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether Liberal Democrat policy is to bring grant-maintained schools back within LEA control. I have already said that, but I am happy to say again to the hon. Gentleman that that is the case. Those parents who want to see their schools have greater individual freedom will find that all schools under our plan will have it—not just grant-maintained schools—because of the restructuring and rearrangements of LEAs, 558 which are clearly described in our policy documents and at which on a number of occasions I have offered the hon. Gentleman to look to see where he disagrees with me.
§ Mr. Robin Squire
I wish to respond to the point about grant-maintained schools wishing to opt back in to LEAs, which the hon. Gentleman trots out from time to time. At the risk of repetition, I would say that he cannot produce an example of one school from the 1,007 that are already operating to show that a governing body has said that it would like to come back in. Then there is the stability. Most hon. Members would see some advantage in ensuring that schools were not switching in and out. The key issue remains, that not one school has given a sign of wanting to come back in, and frankly, one wonders why they would want to.
§ Mr. Foster
The Minister will be aware that there have been one or two comments on television programmes, although I accept that people have argued that there were misquotes and so on. It is hardly surprising, under the current level of bribes and additional funds that grant-maintained schools—[Laughter.] Conservative Members laugh, but it is quite frightening to hear that they do not believe that grant-maintained schools continue to get additional financial benefits.
If the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) will bear with me for two seconds while I find what the Secretary of State said about that in relation specifically to this year's Budget—I will come to it in a second—he will see that the Secretary of State made it clear in her own press release that, in terms of capital funding, grant-maintained schools would continue to be treated favourably, and they are continuing to do better as a result. The hon. Gentleman will remind us of the article in The Times Educational Supplement, but he fails to recognise that a new structure of LEAs is emerging.
§ Mr. Enright
I would like to give the hon. Member the newspaper quote from the Secretary of State for Education. It reads:In perhaps the clearest public admission yet that the Government is stacking the cards in favour of GM schools, Mrs. Shephard told a meeting of the GM headteachers' association last week that `despite very tight constraints on spending generally…we have preserved favourable treatment for the GM sector in the allocation of capital provision'.I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Foster
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have given way to him several times. The House will want me to make a little progress.
§ Mr. Foster
I shall give way to the hon. Member for Colchester, North, as I have not given way to him yet, but then I must make progress.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman was keen to extract a forecast from the Minister of how many schools will be going grant-maintained in the years ahead. Will the hon. Gentleman give the House a forecast of how many 559 schools he thinks will vote to return to local authority control from grant-maintained status? I think that we should know.
§ Mr. Foster
No, I certainly will not, unless I am allowed to do that in the context of the educational framework that I would like to see in place in this country. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me to do so in the current context, I am not surprised that the Minister was able to say that relatively few want to come back, although one hears increasingly of a number of governors, head teachers, deputies and staff who are concerned about the increasing bureaucracy they have to face.
I have raised a number of issues where I think that there is uncertainty about the Labour party's policy. There continues to be uncertainty about where it stands on league tables, independent schools and so on. Other hon. Members may have the opportunity to raise those issues.
We welcome the fact that there have been some changes in the Government's stance. It is welcome that they now recognise that their grant-maintained policy is beginning to falter and fail— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) chides me. The statistics provided in evidence to the Select Committee are interesting, because they show that there has been 40 per cent. inaccuracy in the Government's prediction of the number of pupils who would be in grant-maintained schools. Has the hon. Gentleman seen the recent statistics for the number of schools that are even considering opting out, let alone choosing to do so through a ballot? He should compare the statistics with those for previous years.
The biggest proof of failure comes in this year's Budget, and in the rate support settlement. Compared with last year, there is to be a 57 per cent. reduction in the budget for grant-maintained schools.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The policy of grant-maintained schools would be a success even if there were only one such school in the whole country. That school would be enjoying freedom, having got the local education authority out of its hair, and would be providing a better education. In my constituency, all secondary schools have gone for grant-maintained status, so I do not think that the Liberal Democrats or the Labour party will make much progress in my area at the next general election.
§ Mr. Foster
In view of the poll results today, the hon. Gentleman is making strange predictions about the future of his party. However, I shall not spend more time trying to make him believe that the grant-maintained policy is failing. The evidence is clear, and few schools are now interested in moving in that direction.
The Government's shift on league tables is welcome. As I said in an intervention earlier, only a year ago I raised with the former Secretary of State the importance of incorporating value added information in the tables, and he accused me of wanting to obfuscate the facts. Therefore, it is pleasing that there is now a growing consensus in the House on the importance of presenting a wide range of information about individual schools to parents, pupils and other people within the local community.
560 I hope that, over time, the Government will pay more attention than they have done to date to the comments of the National Commission on Education about the 10 qualities that define a successful school. Hon. Members would find it helpful to study those comments if they have not already done so.
Another Government shift welcomed by both sides of the House relates to their previous absolute opposition to a general teaching council, whose importance was so eloquently described by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright). There is growing evidence that the new Secretary of State is more willing to listen to the arguments in favour of such a council. Perhaps, in due course, she will support its establishment. I hope that the Minister will tell us the Government's latest position on that matter.
I now come to points on which I suspect the hon. Member for Lewes and others will begin to disagree with me. I do not believe that we can provide quality education and raise standards unless teachers and other highly trained and motivated people in the education service are given the tools with which to do the job—for example, books, equipment and other resources—and are provided with adequate and appropriate facilities and premises in which to work. The Government have failed in all those respects, by neglecting to invest. They are priming a time bomb, and seem sadly unaware of growing difficulties.
The hon. Member for Walton referred to problems in higher education. The massive expansion in numbers in that sector is not properly funded. There has been a massive reduction in expenditure per student, but over the past eight years the costs incurred by universities have increased 8 per cent. in real terms. The service faces growing financial pressures and increasing demoralisation.
It must concern hon. Members in all parts of the House that there is an increasing backlog of repairs and maintenance, and a need for additional buildings to cater for growing pupil numbers. The hon. Member for Walton made a graphic reference to worries about the quality of some buildings. Quality education cannot be provided when many schools have leaking roofs, rising damp and dry rot. There is an estimated repair and maintenance backlog of £4.3 billion.
Some pupils miss lessons because they are sent home from unsafe classrooms. Coventry's chief education officer, Mr. Farmer, recently stated:I know of a primary school held up by the window frames. I would play truant from some of the schools we force our children to attend.The Association of Metropolitan Authorities also recently stated:The situation is getting worse by the month. Almost every local education authority has at least one unsafe school.We cannot provide quality education without tackling the appalling repair and maintenance backlog. The modest Budget increases in the capital programme will go no way to meeting those problems.
As to the debate on class sizes, the Minister of State challenged the existence of any real evidence to prove the detrimental effect of class sizes on quality. The hon. Member for Walton replied honestly, that he was not aware of any major research—nor am I. However, in referring to the report produced by four teacher unions 561 and the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education, the hon. Member for Walton did not quote a remark by one parent that sums up the matter perfectly:Any halfwit should realise that increasing class size is detrimental to a child's education.I entirely agree. When teachers, head teachers, governors, parents and experts all acknowledge the importance of class size in relation to educational quality, it is worrying that Ministers do not share concern about the sizes of classes in which many pupils are taught. For the first time, this year more than 20 per cent. of primary school children are being taught in classes of 31 pupils or more.
How can one develop and improve standards if our teachers are increasingly under such stress? Data submitted to the school teachers' pay review body contained worrying statistics about the rising number of workers within the profession who are retiring prematurely on the grounds of ill health.
The National Association of Headteachers refers to that increase in its submission, and says:We remain concerned at the continuing high level of teachers, heads and deputies leaving the profession before the normal retirement age of 60. If this trend continues, given the age profile of the profession and the uncertainties of graduate recruitment referred to earlier, then the education service cannot realistically maintain improving standards as reflected in this year's GCSE and A level results".The problem is a time bomb, which is not being addressed.
Reference was also made to concern about the growing number of pupils being excluded from schools. The Minister of State spoke on the radio today in response to a recent survey which shows a significant rise in the number of pupils who are permanently excluded from our schools. I was concerned to hear him say that he was not convinced by the figures. The very worrying figures in the survey have been collected from a large number of local education authorities.
Statistics from local education authorities which were not referred to in the survey show a similar trend. Figures from Essex county council and local education authority—which were not included in the survey released today—show that the number of permanent exclusions has doubled, from 110 in 1992–93 to 221 in 1993–94. How can quality education be provided to pupils when they are excluded from school? I hope that the Minister will be slightly more positive about the Government's reaction to the survey than the Minister of State was.
I know that the Minister was unable to attend in the Chamber for the beginning of the debate, but I am sure that he is aware that his hon. Friend referred to special educational needs. I have paid tribute in the House to the Under-Secretary of State for the work that he has done in respect of special educational needs.
However, it is worrying that, while we have a code of practice in this area— it is very welcome—if resources are not provided to ensure its implementation, the code is not worth the paper it is written on. Currently, many schools fear that they will not be able to implement the code, simply because they do not have the resources either to make special allowance payments to teachers who have the job of co-ordinating the code's implementation, or to find time to allow co-ordinators to undertake in-service training. That is a particular problem in primary schools, where non-contact time is short.
562 If we are to have high-quality education in our schools, assessment is clearly very important. Much has been said about testing, assessment and league tables. Hon. Members should be concerned, if they are not already, about the recent Budget's impact upon Ofsted. After all, Ofsted is the body charged with monitoring standards in our schools.
The Budget cuts Ofsted funding substantially, yet it is currently not able to perform its set tasks. I hope that the Minister will respond to that concern in winding up. Once every four years, all primary and secondary schools are meant to have an inspection, but Ofsted is way behind in its inspections this year, because of the system set up by the Government. In the autumn term of 1994, 1,250 primary schools were told that they would be inspected. In practice, only 950 of those schools were visited by an inspection team and 150 of those were not inspected until the following spring term.
In the spring term of 1994, 1,267 schools were told that they had been called for inspection and yet I was told by Ofsted yesterday that it expects only just over 850 of those schools to be inspected. It is clear from that evidence that Ofsted is falling a long way behind in meeting its targets yet its budget for next year has been cut by more than 10 per cent.
Ofsted is not able to meet its already great work but it appears from the comments of the Secretary of State for Education that she intends to impose a further burden on Ofsted in relation to nursery provision and to increased support to pre-school playgroup associations. I understand her to be saying that, where money is given, for example, to the Pre-School Playgroups Association, Ofsted will be charged to carry out inspections to ensure value for money and its proper use. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm whether that is the case.
I am increasingly concerned about the relationship between Ofsted and the Department for Education's school effectiveness division. The Minister may not have time to deal with that matter in his winding-up speech but he may wish to reflect on my concern, which other hon. Members may share, about the growing overlap and confusion between Ofsted and the school effectiveness division.
My speech has ranged widely but I hope that my major concern has come over clearly. Although many good things are going on in our education service as a result of the dedication and hard work of the people working in it, growing strains exist in the education service, which will mean that we shall not be able to continue to develop the education service and standards and to improve quality. If we are going to achieve that, there must be increased investment in our education service.
The worrying thing is that, although we have a modest increase in this year's Budget, in subsequent years, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us, that will decline. We know that even in this year's Budget contains a significant cut that limits what local education authorities are able to do. That will not help standards or improve quality. I hope that the Minister will fight more vigorously for increased resources in our education service.
§ Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak about standards in education, which is of increasing 563 concern to my constituents. I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), with whom I share the privilege of being president of the British Youth Council. We both, therefore, take a considerable interest in the issue.
I share the hon. Gentleman's view about the confusion that is now evident in the main Opposition party's thinking on education. In the debate, the hon. Member the Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) asked his party spokesman, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), to clarify that a Labour Government would not charge fees for people going into higher education. The official record will, I believe, show that the hon. Member for Walton said that he was sure that that was the case—that those people would not be charged. I then pressed him on the position of the Commission for Social Justice, and he replied that it had made recommendations that the Labour party was still considering.
There is clear confusion between what the hon. Member for Walton initially suggested was the case and what he subsequently clarified as being the case—that there is no direct policy on this matter.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
May I clarify the position and exactly what I said? I think that the record should show that I said that we had machinery to consider such matters, and recommendations would go into that machinery.
§ Mr. Hendry
The hon. Gentleman referred to the 2.5 million young people who were entitled to vote at the previous general election but chose not to do so. He will be doing all he can to entice them to vote Labour. Many will be aspiring to go into further education and they need to know for certain whether a Labour Government would charge them for their fees. It is not sufficient for the Labour party to say that it is "considering" the matter. The commission set up by the Labour party to make recommendations on such matters said that they should be charged and we need the Labour party to state clearly whether it agrees with the commission.
We also need greater clarity on Labour's general education policy. It is not acceptable to tell grant-maintained schools that they will be consulted after the election because, if there were to be a majority Labour Government, which I do not believe will be the case, the Government would be in a position to disregard the schools' views completely and do whatever they wished. The 1 million parents who chose grant-maintained schools need a clearer statement about what the Labour party would do.
The Labour party should also state its position in the interests of fairness. When the hon. Member for Walton was a Whip, his tremendous reputation for fairness was greatly respected by my colleagues. However, I am sure that, out of fairness, he will admit that, when the Labour party was last in opposition in the mid-1970s, it made fine promises about what it would do for education but when it took office it cut the education budget over the next five years by £1.6 million and reduced it as a proportion of gross domestic product by 1 per cent. In the interests of fairness, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make it clear that the Labour Government did not always live up to their promises.
564 I wish to concentrate on issues relating directly to my constituents. Over the past few years, there have been significant improvements in examination results. They would not have been possible without testing or had it not been the Government's policy to publish test results. I accept that there are problems in comparing the results of individual schools, because a wide range of factors can help to determine those results.
However, it is worth noting that, in the schools in my constituency, the average number of pupils gaining five grade A to C GCSEs has increased from 49.4 per cent. to 52.8 per cent. in the past year. Results in High Peak are therefore better than the county average. We must ensure that improvements in results are not made at the expense of standards in general. We seek an assurance from the Minister that there will be no pressure to reduce the standard of GCSEs to obtain better results.
We must re-examine the way in which results are portrayed in small schools because, even where the Government allow for significant rounding, an individual student's results can be identified in small schools. That worries teachers, and especially the children and their parents.
There is a school funding crisis in Derbyshire at the moment. In the summer, I spent a significant amount of time consulting the heads of schools and the chairmen of governing bodies trying to establish the source of that crisis. One argument is that it is caused by lack of Government funding, but, in recent years, that funding has risen although the county council has reduced the amount that is spent on education.
One of our concerns in Derbyshire involves the amount of the aggregated schools budget that is spent on schools—we spend 85.01 per cent. and the legal requirement is 85 per cent. Sadly, Derbyshire is one of the six, out of the total of 97, local education authorities that retain centrally the maximum possible amount. That directly affects the sum that can be spent in schools.
I understand the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Walton about school meals. Until recently, £18 million was taken out of the schools budget of Derbyshire to fund school meals, regardless of need. Prosperous parents found that their children at secondary schools—perhaps the grandchildren of the Duke of Devonshire, had they attended those local schools—could have a school meal for 55p. That was an absurd waste of money, because the budget should have been targeted on those in need. The majority of parents, however, were willing to contribute significantly more to the budget.
Under the standard spending assessment the Government allow money to be allocated for sparsity. My constituency covers 400 square miles. The majority of the population live in the two main towns of Buxton and Glossop, but that means that a significant number of small schools are spread around an extremely large rural area. A specific 2 per cent. element of the SSA is designed to relate to sparsity, but, unfortunately, when the county council and the education authority come to dish out the money, they overlook that factor. The small rural schools have not benefited as the Government's policy intended that they should. The upshot is that my constituents are being denied funds that the Government specifically said should go to smaller rural schools.
If the county council had allocated that SSA element, it would amount to £50 per pupil in a secondary school and £37 per pupil in a primary school. It is clear that 565 some of the financial problems now faced by local schools would be overcome if the county council allocated the funds intended for them. Hope Valley college, for example, would receive an extra £20,000, and small primary schools with 100 pupils would receive about £4,000 a year. That money would make a real difference.
The problem is how the county council chooses to allocate its funds. It puts enormous emphasis on deprivation. All of us readily accept that, in areas of serious deprivation, extra funding should be given to help to cater for those needs. Because of that factor, Leicestershire, for example, gives £115 for every secondary pupil and Staffordshire gives £264. Derbyshire, however, which cannot readily claim to suffer greater deprivation than those counties, does not just offer the same amounts or a little more than the combined sums, but double the combined amount. It offers £784 per secondary pupil; similarly large amounts are offered to primary schools. Thirteen secondary schools in the county get nothing, even though deprivation exists within their catchment areas—five of those schools are in High Peak. Another four schools, however, get more than £125,000 a year as a result of that deprivation factor. Schools in my area are losing badly because of the way in which the county council dishes out the money.
According to Government advice, small schools with fewer than 10 staff should be funded by the education authority to cover the actual cost of the teaching staff. The county council resolutely refuses to do that and still wants to work predominantly on an average cost basis. Popular rural schools have the reputation of keeping their teachers for many years, which means that the teachers rise up the income table. Because of the way in which those schools are funded by the county council, however, their own costs for their teachers are not remunerated. The Government's guidance is being ignored by the county council.
I do not wish to get involved in a discussion on the general principle governing grant-maintained status, which has already been covered adequately by hon. Members today. I hope that we are beginning to see that issue being taken out of politics. The fact that the Leader of the Opposition and his wife have exercised their parental right to educate their son in a grant-maintained school will, I hope, mean that we can have more structured, sensible debates about grant-maintained schools than has been possible in the past.
I have tended not to get involved in the issues surrounding grant-maintained status in my constituency because I felt that it was a matter for the parents to decide. However, in view of the points that I have raised, that can no longer be the case. The shortfall in the education budget of the schools in my constituency is serious because of the way in which the county council allocates money. Schools have no choice but to consider grant-maintained status. The governors and head teachers would not be doing their jobs properly if they did not consider the issue.
It is not a question of a bribe, as the hon. Member for Bath suggested. Schools are not receiving the budgets that they need because of the way in which the county council divides up the total budget. The budget includes money which is rightfully theirs. The only way in which they can gain it is by obtaining grant-maintained status. As that 566 means taking on extra responsibilities currently handled by the education authority, it is right that schools should be compensated for that.
A typical secondary school in High Peak would be about £158,000 a year better off if it achieved grant-maintained status. The smallest secondary school, Buxton St. Thomas More's, would be about £70,000 a year better off. Glossopdale, the largest secondary school in my constituency, would be about £340,000 a year better off. Those are the amounts held back by the county council which schools should receive but do not. Schools could radically improve the standard of education for the children and overcome all their teaching and funding problems by taking that approach.
On average, primary schools would gain £31,000. Very small primary schools—the smallest has fewer than a dozen children—would gain about £7,000 a year. The largest would gain about £90,000 a year. Those are significant sums. If, as a result of the way in which the education authority chooses to allocate its funds, the screw is turned unbearably tight on schools, we shall have to look more widely at the other policies which are available.
No issue causes greater concern to parents in my constituency than the education of their children. They believe that the Government are right to put more emphasis on pushing up basic standards in basic subjects. Overwhelmingly, they back the Government and say that we should test and publish the results. We must also examine the issue of funding. In many cases, the money put in by the Government has increased, but my schools are suffering because they have been deprived of funds which are rightfully theirs by the education authority. It will be up to the heads and governors to decide how they will deal with that issue.
§ 1.7 pm
§ Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West)
It is a personal pleasure to speak in a debate opened for the Opposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who is just one shining example of the excellence of the education system in Liverpool. Liverpool seems over the years to have produced far more than its fair share of musicians, poets, scientists and great politicians. I do not suggest that my hon. Friend is a poet.
For at least two decades, discussion in Britain about standards in education has been dominated by the analysis of outcomes, chiefly in terms of the needs of the economy. While I do not minimise the importance of that, over-concentration on it has pushed aside the desire to improve standards for the student as an individual with a growing personality—a future parent, and a future citizen with a role to play in our culture as well as in our economy.
Education is much more complex and important than examination results and what we can gather from them. Education is the business of giving young people the equipment to make their lives more satisfying, and giving them the capacity to make choices and understand that other people have choices that they wish to make, to reach compromises, to contribute positively to all the functions of social living and, as the Minister said at the beginning of the debate, to explore every avenue of knowledge. The standards that we should seek are those that are achieved in all those aspects of education, including, but not relying exclusively on, examination results.
567 The Government's presumption is that standards—even the cripplingly limited ones that they target—are improved by choice. Parents will choose the best school and the best courses for their children. If the choice turns out to be wrong, that is the parents' fault and education authorities at all levels will not be to blame. That choice-making, naturally, will force all schools to come up to scratch and, if they do not, the free market will see to it that the failures will disappear.
"Choice" is attractive as a slogan, but the Government remain unconcerned about the areas in which one person's choice removes another's. I hope to illustrate that in a moment.
It is in the nature of any market that some people, through strength, ability, luck, inherited means or whatever will succeed while others fail. The comprehensive system ensured that the choices that were made by individuals minimised damage to other people's choices. The result, as was mentioned—inadvertently, I think—by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) earlier, was a huge increase in the numbers of students in the country achieving exam successes at 0-level, GCSE and A-level and ultimately qualifying for higher education.
Eleven-plus selection was enormously unpopular; so much so that the Government have not sought to restore it as such. The totality of the Government's changes to the mechanisms of education, however, amount to a newer and more tricky and insidious selective system, whose results are beginning to be apparent. In their claims to be improving standards, the Government are essentially talking about improving educational standards for part of the school population. It is essentially, in its effect, an elitist programme, and its mechanism is divisive and competitive.
League tables are at the very root of what is going wrong with our education system. I note with care what my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), has been saying about Labour's attitude towards league tables. Specifically, in his article in The Times, with which I agree, he said:League tables should not be employed as the public hand of the `market system' in education. They should be used to lift and support schools rather than to embarrass or denigrate them.Quite so. However, I have to say to my hon. Friend that that is easier said than done.
League tables, as they are now, are designed to compare raw output in terms of exam results. We need to be aware of the consequences of that for the practice of education in specific cases.
Last week, I visited a fine primary school in Skelmersdale, in my constituency, where the percentage of pupils with statemented and non-statemented special needs is 65 per cent. The three secondary schools in the town have about 50 per cent. of pupils with special needs, but within four miles of Skelmersdale there are six comprehensive schools—high schools and grammar schools, which are all supposed to be comprehensive—which do not have nearly as high a percentage of pupils with special needs. Some of them have a largely favoured intake from well-to-do districts. That example in my constituency is typical of the position in many places.
568 Before league tables existed, there was already a significant movement of pupils out of Skelmersdale to what were perceived to be more favoured schools. Parents perceived that there was a cachet to be had in schools outside the town, which might offer a better life chance to their children—and who can blame any parent for taking that choice for his or her children?
The inevitable result was that the children from the most ambitious and striving families had already been creamed off from secondary schools in Skelmersdale, to the advantage of schools outside the town. Increasing freedom of preference accelerated that process.
The local education authority could, and did, help to even out that process by investment in Skelmersdale schools. I have no time to describe the details, but the help was considerable and intelligently done.
It came as no surprise that the first league table showed the Skelmersdale schools in a poorer light than the non-Skelmersdale schools, and the immediate result was a drastic drop in the intake of the Skelmersdale schools, ratcheting down those schools' academic possibilities.
Since that time, the schools have struggled to improve their position, not without some success. But the pattern has already been set and it is difficult to claw back. The pattern in sibling links already exists and is determined by the drop away.
There is no disagreement among all the schools in and outside Skelmersdale about the quality of management, the dedication of staff and their sheer hard graft. There is no disagreement about the terrible damage that will be done to the town if schools are driven out of business, which is more than possible. But competition for numbers produces active poaching, which goes on all the time.
Parents are ever alert to any rumour. There was one appalling example where teachers at one school told parents of pupils in a primary school in the district not to send their children to the other secondary school down the road because it had a drugs problem. It did not, but the rumour was enough and the school suffered severe damage.
Skelmersdale is a town that has been brutally bashed about by two recessions. It has many of the problems of an inner city area, but few of the advantages. It can boast about the quality of its schools and college, but it faces a relentless struggle to keep its brightest and best-motivated children in the town.
The process becomes more difficult with the production of raw league tables. I hope that the Labour party is not accepting the principle of raw league tables standing alone until new value-added league tables are established. The SCAA says that that is unlikely to happen before the beginning of the next century—much damage will have been done before then.
Schools should primarily be competing with themselves to improve their standards year on year. Improvements should primarily be measured by contrasting attainment on entry to a school with attainment on exit. In Lancashire a great deal of work has been done in conjunction with Professor Peter Mortimer and the university of London's institute of education to try to create a viable analysis of what is value added. The aim has been to try to assess the factors that lie outside a school's control and clearly have an impact on students' attainment or standards in the school.
569 The work has shown that pupils' attainment at 11 has a huge impact later on GCSE results—I do not suppose that that fact will surprise anyone. That information will, in turn, throw the spotlight on attainment in primary schools. Before league tables are, in turn, thrown at primary schools, the socio-economic factors that influence events in both primary and secondary schools should be clearly marked up.
I had intended to give details of how the research works, but the information is generally available and I do not have time to give it in detail. To summarise—of the 79 secondary schools in Lancashire that were considered in terms of the value added tables from 11 to 16, 33 per cent. of schools showed that they were better than their raw league table ranking. Some 49 per cent. showed in the value added tables that they were worse than their raw ranking. One could say that the figures might be wrong here and there, but they show an enormous shift in results between the two systems.
That work in Lancashire, as with projects elsewhere, must be heading in the right direction and must provide a fairer assessment of schools than the present league tables. SCAA spokespersons have said that they will not consider socio-economic factors. That fact has been reinforced by one or two Conservative Members in today's debate.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside and to the Government that, even when an agreed system is running, we shall still be faced with a vast problem of perception. The calculations are complex. I can foresee that parents will say that it is wonderful that the schools in Skelmersdale have made great achievements in terms of value added. They will note that it is good for the town and for everyone living there, but will add that the schools do not achieve the same exam results as schools in Ormskirk and Up Holland. They will therefore send their children to other schools even though they appreciate what a nearby school is achieving. Even with value-added league tables, there will be continuing serious social problems for schools in less-favoured districts such as Skelmersdale which face great difficulties.
I hope that it can never be claimed that I have said that I believe that the amount of resources is the sole determinant of standards in schools. I do not believe it to be even the most important determinant. It is, however, one crucial factor. At a time when standards are predicated on success in league tables, it is unfair and even immoral that there should be significant regional variations in funding per pupil. I shall run through the figures quickly, comparing Lancashire with three southern authorities of the same size: Essex, Hampshire and Kent. The serious resource deficit is the consequence of the area cost adjustment. The Minister has heard me complain about that adjustment on numerous occasions, but the gap is growing.
In the five-to-10 age range in 1993–94, £1,822 was spent on each pupil in Lancashire. Each Essex pupil received £60 more than that, each Hampshire pupil £44 more, and each Kent pupil £63 more. That is a large difference. For 1994–95, however, the gap increases. Each Lancashire pupil will have £1,867 spent on him or her, in Essex they will get £105 more, in Hampshire £62 more and in Kent £94 more. The disparity in the secondary sector is even greater. The Essex advantage over Lancashire, which used to be £85 per pupil, is now £145. In Hampshire, it used to be £63, but is now £85; and in Kent, an advantage of £90 has grown to one of £130. 570 These disadvantages affect the constituents of the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) as much as mine—indeed, as much as those of any hon. Member with a seat outside the south-east. So we should all be worried.
Finally, there is a conflict between Government rhetoric about choice, standards, quality, expansion of higher education and nursery education, and the structures and the funding mechanisms that the Government have put in place. The Government's philosophy, as expressed in this place, has its roots in air. Pupils, students, parents and teachers live and work under the systems and regulations that the Government have put in place but which in many ways are strangling what the Government profess to want.
Ministers' vigorous defence of the private sector's right to opt out of virtually all the regulations and testing procedures that the Government have imposed on the rest of us show what the Government really think of the monster that they are creating. The priority for any Labour Government must be to maximise choice in education but also to ensure that one citizen's choice, under the mechanisms and structures that we have, does not remove another's choice.
§ Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
I should make it clear at the outset that I am an adviser to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) had to say. Without league tables, we would return to the old system, which basically consisted of school-gate gossip. Parents had no information on which to base a reasoned decision. Therefore, I support league tables and am delighted that Ministers introduced them. I am also pleased that they now have the support of Opposition Members. Clearly, the light is at last beginning to shine.
The debate is about education and quality. I believe that the Government have done a great deal to improve the quality and standards of state education, in which the overwhelming majority of the nation's children are educated. If education had been left to the Opposition, the reforms would never have been introduced.
It seems to me that the Labour party's education policy, in as much as it has one, can be summed up as "more of the same". It is locked into a 1960s time warp, believing that only one type of school holds all the answers to all the needs of all the nation's children. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to note that my hon. Friends agree with me on that.
There is a place for comprehensive schools just as there is a place for denominational schools, grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges, and for the assisted places scheme. We offer the maximum choice and diversity because we want to give parents the maximum freedom and choice. We are successful in doing that, and it is unfortunate that opposition parties cannot grasp it. Choice and diversity allow parents to choose the school that they think is best for their child.
The Government have introduced a series of reforms, starting with the Education Reform Bill in 1987. That major legislation, which became an Act in 1988, has been likened to the Education Act 1944 and that is not an unreasonable comparison. Since 1988, the Government have introduced local management of schools, 571 grant-maintained schools, the national curriculum and testing, a new system of schools inspection, league tables and the GCSE and GNVQ. By contrast, Labour's education policy has been distinguished only by its absence. The Opposition were the dog that did not bark, despite the fact that the great education debate was initiated by a former Labour Prime Minister.
With the support of their colleagues in the trade unions, Opposition Members have criticised and opposed the Government's innovations and ideas, but they have little thought for the consumer, whether parent or pupil. Even today they reject efforts to raise school standards and deny initiatives that are designed to give parents greater powers and responsibilities.
Interestingly, Madam Deputy Speaker—I know that you follow these matters closely—Opposition Members produced a White Paper entitled "Opening Doors to a Learning Society". The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and I are the only people who now possess a copy, and it might be useful to show the document to the House.
Those of us who have been involved in education believe that the Labour party has been far more interested in bolting doors than opening them. The Opposition's mind remains closed to anything other than the increasingly discredited dogma of the 1960s. Labour's doorman for this exercise was the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), but the doors jammed, and they never opened and the White Paper became so much waste paper. It was claimed that this consultation document was the result ofan exceptional type of consultation, not seen since the 1944 Education Act.Some four months later Labour's doors remain as closed as Labour's mind on both the consultation and the paper. The document has been consigned to the oblivion that it deserves.
Labour is motivated less by a desire to improve education than by a raw appetite for power. The Opposition seem to believe that, by adopting some of the Government's education policies, they may secure some form of electoral advantage. I have news for them. Why should the electorate vote for Labour when, in the Conservatives, they have the real thing? We believe in league tables and grant-maintained schools and in all the measures that have been so painfully introduced by the Government in recent years. By contrast, the Opposition oppose competition and believe that only LEA education is good education.
It is said that there is much rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repenteth. I am not implying that the right hon. Member for Sedgfield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, is in any way a sinner, but at long last he has come round to the idea that parents actually like choice, and that the good, bad or indifferent comprehensive school does not provide all the answers. He has come round to the idea that grant-maintained schools should not be damned simply because they are outside the LEA establishment.
I welcome the conversion, which no doubt occurred on the stony way to his son's secondary school. Let me make it clear—I say this with absolute sincerity and I want no misunderstanding about that. I do not criticise the right hon. Gentleman and I do not condemn him, for he is doing what I do. I endeavour to secure the best for my children, 572 and he is doing the same. The best in his case, and with his Labour-controlled LEA area, is a grant-maintained school outside it.
If there is condemnation in this, it is of the quality of schools and the quality of education provided by a local Labour education authority. There seems to be a growing gulf between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). I acknowledge the fact that the latter, like me, has a large family. Between us, we have 11 children. We were both educated in the state sector, as were our children, but I suspect that that is where the similarity ends.
The hon. Member for Walton is quoted in The Times Educational Supplement as beingan unequivocal opponent of grant maintained schools.Indeed, he quotes among his battle honours—we heard from him about it earlier—the Bluecoat school, where he was "on the winning side"—that is, the side that defeated an application for grant-maintained status.
I believe that it would be helpful if the right hon. Member for Sedgfield invited his hon. Friend into the Leader of the Opposition's room and, over a comradely glass of Glenlivet, and in his smiling, cheerful way, suggested that he change his ideas. After all, one cannot have, even in the Labour party, the leader doing one thing and one of his henchman saying and doing something completely different.
It would be in the interests of the nation's children if the Labour party persuaded its comrades in the more militant LEAs to call the dogs off and to stop their unreasonable opposition to grant-maintained status. I am convinced that one of the reasons why even more grant-maintained schools have not so far emerged is the campaigns waged against them—for example, by the hon. Member for Walton and other Labour Members, and also the Liberal Democrats. It seems that they and some LEAs were more interested in protecting their own interests and empires.
I believe that Opposition Members are abolitionists. They oppose grant-maintained status, grammar schools, city technology colleges and the assisted places scheme. They are opposed to anything other than the neighbourhood comprehensive. I must tell them that they make a grievous error.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
The Labour party is against the divisiveness of consecutive Conservative policies that set out a small group, to the disadvantage of the majority. On grant-maintained schools, the hon. Gentleman is fully aware that our objection has been about the form of management, the preferential funding and the lack of local democratic accountability. It was never suggested by anybody that parents should not send their children to grant-maintained schools.
§ Mr. Pawsey
If that was a brief intervention, thank heavens the hon. Gentleman did not want to make a long one. When he says "divisiveness", I say "choice". I say with all the sincerity that I can command that I believe in choice. I want to give parents choice. "Choice" and "diversity" are key words, and I am sorry that I cannot carry Labour Members with me on what I believe to be a key principle of our developing education policies.
§ Mr. Don Foster
I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. Does he believe, in the choice and diversity on which he is so keen, that it would be only fair to have a 573 level playing field? Does he agree that it is unfair that grant-maintained schools have a financial advantage over LEA schools?
§ Mr. Pawsey
If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself for a little longer, I shall deal later with the reason why people elect for grant-maintained status—and it is not the money.
The Gracious Speech did not propose any new education legislation. Therefore, we shall have the opportunity to digest and absorb the reforms of previous years. The teaching profession has rightly complained about the pace of change. We are now moving from the stormy waters of reform into the relative calm of consolidation. There is now a breathing space in which we can further consider the actions that we have taken and undertake the fine tuning that will undoubtedly prove necessary. I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say about that when he responds to the debate.
Another of the Government's achievements is the greater part now being played by parents in the running of their children's schools. There is a powerful argument that parents know best what is right for their own children. Parents do not leave their brains at the school gate when they go into the school to meet their children's teachers. Parents have a contribution to make and, in my view, it is a substantial one. Parents—I include the right hon. Member for Sedgefield—recognise that children respond to different challenges and different school environments. The Government have ensured that all parents now receive a written report on their child's progress at least once a year. Schools are also now required to publish test and examination results.
I am an unashamed proponent of grant-maintained schools. I believe that the system delivers choice and diversity. It also acts as a spur to those schools that remain under LEA control. Therefore, GM schools have an impact out of all proportion to their number. So far, about 1,100 schools have voted for GM status. That involves about 650,000 pupils. It means that well over 1 million parents have elected to send their children to GM schools.
Overwhelmingly, those GM schools come from the secondary sector. It is now time for GM status to be relaunched and focused principally at primary level. The House will recall that more than 17 per cent. of the nation's secondary schools are now grant-maintained. I want a similar proportion of primary schools to opt for GM status. Primary schools are naturally much smaller than their secondary brethren and they may not, on their own, be able to afford the specialist advice that exists in secondary schools. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should make it easier for primary schools to establish links with the secondary sector so that they can share some of the costs of providing the necessary expertise. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could refer to that point in his reply.
Some of us who were the poor bloody infantry in the education battles fought in Standing Committees will recall my argument that the principal attraction of GM status is not the additional funding—although clearly it is a benefit—but the greater measure of independence that such schools enjoy. GM status enables head teachers and their governing bodies to cut the apron strings that formerly secured those schools to the LEA and its ideas. 574 When I sought to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), he saw me holding a survey published in The Times Educational Supplement and he would not let me in. I do not blame him. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question was given by The Times Educational Supplement. Its independent survey made it absolutely clear that the real reason for choosing grant-maintained status is not money but the independence that it allows.
§ Mr. Pawsey
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way, but I am already receiving curious signs from my Whip. Unless I move on, there will be grumbling.
The Government's record on advanced education is splendid. To paraphrase one of my hon. Friends, when the other lot were in, only one in eight of the target group went into advanced education. Today's figure is one in three, making well over 1 million students. My right hon. and hon. Friends and the Government have not received the credit that they deserve for that remarkable achievement.
The only causes for disquiet are the way that discretionary grants operate and the fact that some LEAs do not make them. I should like to elaborate but I cannot do so, but I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would refer to that point when he winds up.
Everything that has been achieved has been achieved at great cost.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I am glad that the hon. Lady agrees. Spending per pupil has risen almost 50 per cent. in real terms since 1979, when her lot left office. Spending on books and, equipment has increased by 30 per cent., and teachers' average pay has risen 57 per cent. in real terms.
§ Mr. Pawsey
That figure of 57 per cent. is correct. Those improvements are a measure of the Government's achievements. Only with a Conservative Government will parents and pupils get a good deal and be able to ensure that the quality of education continues to improve.
§ Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)
Much of today's debate has centred on the alleged contribution that grant-maintained schools have made to improving standards. In reality, only four children in 100 attend a GMS. Our concerns are quality, excellence and standards for all school children. If one adds to that number the seven children in 100 who attend private schools, one finds that nearly nine children out of 10 attend ordinary state comprehensive schools. The Government must answer the question of whether their educational reforms provide the framework in which every child can develop to his or her best.
After 15 years of turmoil and change, are all children better equipped to fulfil the roles that society wants and needs, if this nation is to succeed in the intensely competitive global market economy? A small number of higher education establishments may be maintaining better standards, but the Government have failed the 575 majority of young people. The charge against you is that, far from raising standards, you have failed most young people.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. The hon. Lady appears to be addressing me personally.
§ Ms Hodge
My apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker. I must learn the conventions of the House. I hope that you will excuse me.
The charge that I lay against the Government is not the product of political dogma and prejudice but founded on the factual outcome of Government reforms. The Government chose to concentrate the nation's limited resources and energies on the few and to forget the many.
Let us examine the facts. If we compare ourselves with our international peers, we will see that we are not attaining high standards and outcomes for most children. Only 27 per cent. of 16-year-olds in England get grades A to C in the core subjects of maths, the national language and science. In Japan, 50 per cent. of children achieve that level; in Germany the figure is 62 per cent.; and in France it is 66 per cent. It is indictment on 15 years' of Conservative Government that today one in five 21-year-olds has difficulty with basic maths and one in six 21-year-olds has difficulty reading and writing.
What matters to Britain is not what is happening in a few schools, but how the education system is meeting the needs of the overwhelming majority of our children. One of the ways in which high standards can be achieved is through the investment of resources in our education system. Education has been starved of resources year on year under this Government.
That is not to pretend that resources are the only answer to the problems that we face in our schools; but without the proper allocation of sufficient resources we will never achieve high educational standards. We can build effective schools only if we ensure that proper educational standards are a basic entitlement for all of our children.
That goal is not necessarily achieved through higher taxation; it is, most importantly, a question of political choice. If the £780 million that was invested in consultants for the British Rail privatisation process had been spent on improving nursery education for our under-fives, the Government could be proud of their achievements in improving educational standards and quality.
Most of the children of Opposition Members attend state secondary schools—those are the schools to which we have a commitment. Most of the children of Conservative Members do not attend those schools. Conservative Members are quite happy to invest as much as £5,200, on average, in every pupil attending a private school. However, when it comes to state comprehensive education, we are, on average, investing less than half of that amount—£2,400—in every child.
That is the real unfairness and the real scandal in British politics today: it is not whether a Labour Member of Parliament chooses between one state school or another, but that most Conservative Members of Parliament choose to spend an average of £5,200 on their children in the private sector. They believe that it is all right for the rest of us to survive in a system where less than half of that amount is spent on each child.
576 Of course school outcomes are different. If private schools achieve better results, Conservative Members must ask themselves whether that is at least partly related to the resources invested in each child. One has only to compare the pupil-teacher ratio in the private sector with that of the state comprehensive sector to see that that level of investment provides a much more generous pupil-teacher ratio and therefore promotes higher standards.
Britain has a history of one of the longest periods of compulsory education in the world. Despite that, we devote a considerably smaller share of our national income to education than most of our European partners and the United States of America. According to the most recent comparable figures, we spend 4.7 per cent. of gross national product on education. France spends 5.4 per cent. of GNP on education, America spends 5.7 per cent. and Sweden spends as much as 7.2 per cent.
What has been the impact of those funding levels? What have our state schools been forced to do in the past 15 years? Under the current system, they have been forced to get rid of experienced teachers because they are too expensive. All hon. Members have examples of that happening in their constituencies. Under current constraints, state schools have been forced to make cuts in books and equipment.
A recent report by the National Association of Head Teachers states that schools, to cope with the financial constraints of this coming year, could install water metering and water controls to save money; have a central heating control switch in the head teacher's office to save money; sell rights to ice cream vendors to earn money; and replace broken windows with plastic windows to save money.
The capital spending situation is a scandal. The extent of our investment in capital expenditure on schools means that, at current levels, it will take 60 years simply to deal with depreciation in those assets, without taking account of new assets that might be brought in. We have a poorer pupil-teacher ratio than in the past, and it is worsening. That is having an impact on quality standards in our education system.
I want to spend my last few minutes considering our commitment to nursery education. In 1972, the previous Prime Minister gave a promise that every three and four-year-old would be entitled to a place in a state nursery school. One generation later, successive Governments have failed to deliver that promise. At the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister made a commitment that four-year-olds should have access to pre-school education in schools. However, since that commitment was given, all that has happened is that the Government have cut the budget for pre-school and early-years training through grants for education support and training funding.
I fear that there will be either a spread of poor quality early-years service or a growth in the number of four-year-olds in reception classes, where 30 children are looked after by one teacher and one helper. They are nothing more than a form of cheap child care.
Comprehensive, high-quality early-years services are vital to creating equality of opportunity for children and equality of opportunity between men and women, both in education and in the work place. They are vital to build the skilled work force we need if we are to be competitive and successful in the global economy.
577 What have we got? Where is the commitment to doing something about the early years? Where is the new money that was promised? We were not told about it in the Budget. Where is the new capital that is required? It did not appear in the Budget. Why is there such a loathing of local authorities, as expressed by Sheila Lawlor in an article yesterday, which will prevent the Government, who one assumes is advised by her, from giving local authorities the necessary resources to improve early-years education?
Improving the quality of early-years education, will cost us money. The Danes and the French spend 1 per cent. of their gross domestic product on education of children in their early years. The French spend 10 per cent. and the Norwegians 11 per cent. of their education budget on the early years. We spend a mere 4 per cent. Let us compare ourselves with our international competitors. In France, a third of two-year-olds are in nursery schools and in Belgium, Denmark and Italy, more than 80 per cent. of children aged over three are in nursery schools or kindergarten. However, in Britain, only 14 per cent. of our three and four-year-olds have full-time places in nursery classes. The geographical distribution of provision is just as bad.
The concern for quality and excellence is central to my party's values. The educational entitlement that we offer our children is the key to creating a fair and equal society but, in a truly fair society, everyone would have an equal chance of a good education. In Britain, under this Government, only the privileged few have that chance while the rest of us have seen our schools starved of resources, our teachers hounded and promises of improvement in provision for the early years broken.
Too many of our children have been failed yet our children are our future. The Government's failure to invest in that future makes them unfit to govern. The British people are longing for the day when they can tell the Government to go and we can start to build an education for our children which will create a strong Britain for the future.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)
I shall be extremely brief. I shall not read out pages of prepared text, but intend to reply directly to the international comparisons made by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). The hon. Lady complained about nursery education, although Conservative education authorities such as Wandsworth have been pioneers in this respect. She also mentioned outcomes, but it was the Conservative Government who shifted the debate from inputs to outcomes. That significant shift has transformed the education debate. However, I shall concentrate mainly on the hon. Lady's international comparisons.
We have taken great care to introduce league tables, testing and the national curriculum, because we want to improve the outcomes of education system. The hon. Lady cited some figures, and I believe that I know their provenance. I think that they come from a document entitled "Educational Achievement in Britain, France, Germany and Japan: A Comparative Analysis" by Andy Green, published by the Institute of Education of the University of London, but the hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong.
578 The document does indeed show that the outcomes of the education systems in France and Germany in particular, but also in Japan, seem to be superior to ours. In particular, the proportion of 16-year-olds obtaining the GCSE standard in a range of subjects is significantly lower in the United Kingdom than in France and Germany. The reasons cited by the document are important, and it is incumbent on the hon. Lady to explain the full facts.
The document states:as nations, they"—Germany, France and Japan—place great emphasis on educational achievement, engendering high educational aspirations amongst individual learners. They … have a learning culture … and … the labour market, and society in general, regards those who do well in education.The document is therefore taking account of a range of factors, such as starting salaries for graduates in industry, to encourage people to aspire to higher educational achievement.
The key paragraph that the hon. Lady should perhaps have cited, rather than reading her prepared notes, states:Prescribed curricula have governed the content of different types of school and for different ages. They have established norms and expectations for all children and have given clarity and purpose to the educational process. Curriculum development and pedagogical research has tended to have a more national focus than in the UK … Norms are established for all children, in whichever stream, and they are reinforced through regular assessment and reporting. In France and Germany, the practice of grade repeating serves to underline the expectation that certain standards are expected at each level.The countries mentioned have a diversity of educational provision and wide parental choice. That is what the Labour party has yet to learn, and it is an issue that will make the Government's education policy a winner at the next election.
§ Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)
In accordance with the traditions of the House, I first declare my role as an adviser to the National Union of Teachers.
We have had a number of interesting speeches on what all hon. Members have recognised as one of the most important topics facing the nation. I particularly enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), who made an excellent speech on sensitive issues. It is only when we have a cross-party approach to those issues that we will be able to begin to tackle them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) gave us his usual sensible and expert analysis of education and, as is normal in his case, offered us the philosophical underpinning that we sometimes lack. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) illustrated only too well how changes made to education in the past 15 years have affected the children and people within his constituency.
I should like to refer for a moment to the remarks by the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey). I spent a number of hours in Committee and in the Chamber debating education with him. I have heard him express his commitment to choice before. How many children in his constituency can choose to go to Rugby school? How many of them can choose to go to Lawrence Sheriff school or the High School for Girls? All those schools are selective or fee paying. Even in the hon. Gentleman's 579 constituency, which offers comprehensive education, what choice do parents have, other than the Kenilworth comprehensive, which is the only comprehensive school in that part of his constituency?
The hon. Gentleman's attempt to persuade hon. Members that schools do not opt out for financial incentives came ill from him, especially when we had just heard a 10-minute speech from his hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), who said that he was about to advise the schools in his constituency to opt out in order to gain those very financial incentives. Perhaps I can understand the thinking of the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, because I know that the first school that chose to opt out in his constituency may have done so not to gain financial incentives, but in order to avoid closure.
It would be surprising if standards in education had not risen in the past 15 years. There is no doubt that many children now do and know more than those educated even a decade ago. One need only walk into a science class at any secondary school to see young people studying topics that used to be part of an undergraduate syllabus at university. Pupils are more likely now to be learning two languages, to have successfully completed a period of work experience and committed themselves to a period of community service than those of a previous generation.
It is probably no exaggeration to say—I speak on my behalf, at least—that many children in primary schools are more computer literate than many hon. Members. It is clear from talking to young people that many of them are more confident, more articulate and more ambitious than those in previous generations. Their work in creative and expressive art is, in some cases, outstanding. Young people get all too bad a press nowadays, but I want to acknowledge the real achievements of many young people, and, in doing so, the achievements of their teachers and their parents.
The real question is not whether standards have risen—they have—but whether they have risen enough, and whether they have risen across the board. More than a year ago, the National Commission on Education reported on the relative under-achievement of our 16 to 18-year-olds. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) said, those young people lag behind their counterparts in Japan, Germany and France in terms of vocational and academic qualifications. The graduate comparison, however, is more favourable to the United Kingdom.
Those comparisons reveal the real issue in the debate about standards. Our education system has always been plagued by the gap between those who achieve and those who do not. The main challenge that should have faced the Government in the past 15 years was how to bridge that gap and raise the education standards of all our children. The evidence shows that the Government have failed to meet that challenge; in fact, I am not sure that they even had it as a target.
The Tory legacy in education is one of two classes—the haves and the have nots; the selected and the rejected; the failures and the successes. As with the health service, the Government's policy has turned schools into 580 competing financial units. If one school gets more, another is denied; if schools achieve, they are rewarded; if they are struggling, they are left to struggle.
§ Ms Morris
I gave up some time to allow the hon. Member to make his speech, so I am not in a position to give way to him now.
How else can we explain why grant-maintained schools have received two and a half times as much money for capital expenditure as other schools? Why is it that four times as much is spent on a child in a city technology college as on a child in a maintained school? What rhyme or reason is there in the public purse providing money for children to be educated in the private sector? Is it any wonder that a Government who have deliberately built into the system inequality of funding should have seen an increase in inequality of achievement?
Inequality of funding is not wrong because any Opposition Member envies those who manage to secure the resources. It is wrong because such favouritism cannot meet the needs of our children or of the nation. It must be at the least morally questionable to invest in some children at the expense of the rest. Perhaps even more importantly, it shows that the Government fail to realise that the future of our nation depends not on the skills of a few but on the contribution of us all.
I detect a feeling of complacency in many of the words that have been spoken from the Conservative Benches today. If Conservative Members think that what we have in our schools and education system is good enough, they are not ambitious enough for our country or our children. How can they be complacent when, after 15 years of Tory government, 150,000 children are still taught in classes of more than 40, and a further 1.5 million are taught in classes of more than 30?
How can they be complacent when one in 10 children still leave school with no qualifications and the number of school exclusions continues to rise? Why are not the Government doing something about the fact that 25 per cent. of local authorities are now so short of cash that they do not give any discretionary grants to students between 16 and 18 for further education courses? Labour wants better than that. I believe that parents and teachers share in our high aspirations for the education system.
The Minister of State acknowledged that a sizeable group of our children are under-achieving. Those are children both in inner-city and outer-ring areas, in schools the catchment area of which is middle and working class, and in schools at both the top and the bottom of the league tables. Under-achievement is not in one school or one type of school. It pervades too many of our schools in the system.
However, the Minister must reflect why, after 15 years of the Conservatives running the education system, the problem has grown and not reduced. For the Labour party, education is about raising standards, not for the few but for a whole generation. Everyone has a part to play: teachers, parents and Government. There is no doubt that the conflict that the Government have created between those partners in education has done nothing to help matters.
There are three ways in which the Government can help to raise standards. The first is through the provision of nursery education. As my hon. Friend the Member for 581 Barking and others have said, there is now incontrovertible evidence that the life chances of individuals can be crucially enhanced by good-quality nursery education. Why, when the evidence is so strong and has been so strong for so long, are we still languishing at the bottom of the international league table of nursery provision?
The Tories have dithered for 15 years about whether they are in favour of nursery education or not. While they have dithered, millions of children have missed the only chance they have ever had of getting the best start to their school life.
From what I read, nursery education is now back on the Government's agenda. However, words are not enough. After 15 years of Tory rule, whether people's children get a chance to go to nursery still depends on where they live and what they earn. Simply, for every month and every year of Government indecision on nursery provision, thousands of children are denied the chance to succeed.
Secondly, we need to examine what we ask our teachers to do and how we support them in doing it. Every parent knows that one of the important factors which determines whether a child does well at school is the relationship between the teacher and the pupil and what goes on in the classroom.
It sometimes appears that the Government have deliberately gone out of their way to make classroom teaching more difficult. All the changes of recent years have inevitably affected the way in which teachers do their job—and not simply the changes that have been forced through in legislation and Government experimentation. Changes in technology and teaching methods have made teaching substantially different from the job it was 30 years ago.
Nevertheless, throughout all the upheaval of the past 15 years, the Government have never once re-evaluated the tasks we ask of our teachers. It is about time that we considered what teachers do, and what pupils and parents can expect of them. It is about time that we considered that in its own right.
Most teachers now spend only half their working week working with children. No other profession receives as little support as teachers. When teachers are not teaching, they are clerks and typists, form fillers and resource makers. They have to learn to be technicians, bookkeepers and administrators. The effect on teacher morale is damaging enough, but the real losers are the children. People do not go into teaching to be paper chasers and form fillers, and parents want teachers to spend more time with their children.
Let the teachers teach. Let them spend more of their working week with children and less doing administrative and support work. If teachers had the clerical and administrative support that is given to accountants or solicitors, or even Members of Parliament, it would bring about a substantial improvement in the quality of teaching and the standards of achievement. The winners would be the pupils.
Thirdly, we need to build an environment and a culture for learning. How can a child learn when he is being taught by a string of supply teachers because the school does not have the money to carry supernumerary teachers to cover for staff absence? How can one learn when one's class is being disrupted by other children because one's 582 school does not have the resources to provide the support that destructive children need? How can children learn if they are the ones who do not have a book and whose classroom is waiting for repair? That might not be a familiar environment to the children of Conservative Members of Parliament, but it is only too familiar an environment to many children throughout the country.
However, it is not simply what happens in the school that creates an environment for learning, but what happens outside, and what children bring to the classroom with them. What type of learning environment is it for children who come from homes where there is no space for homework, for quiet or for study? What about those children who come from families that find parenting difficult? What about the 4.1 million children who live in poverty, or the growing number of children who suffer from poverty-related illness? The current Government have made it hard for so many of our children to succeed.
Like many who have spoken in the debate, I spent my working life before being elected to this place as a teacher. In my case, it was at an inner-city comprehensive school. Like many other teachers, I know that the greatest professional satisfaction is to watch children succeed and progress. However, I also know that the greatest professional frustration is to watch talent and opportunity being wasted.
I have to believe Conservative Members when they say that they want to raise standards. I have to say to them, however, that, in 15 years of their rule, they have hindered the process rather than helped it. The Government will never raise standards as long as they fund differentially, as long as they make schools compete for the necessities, and as long as they make as many errors as they have done in the national curriculum and testing.
Education has given many of us in the House and outside all the opportunities that we have had in our lifetime. It is the responsibility of all Governments to give the same opportunities to everyone else. This Government have singularly failed to do that. The next Labour Government will deliver.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Robin Squire)
This has been a wide-ranging, entertaining and—I suppose predictably—at times controversial debate on education. Like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), I have conceded some time, because I was anxious that hon. Members who had stayed in the Chamber throughout the morning should have the opportunity to speak. I hope that, in turn, hon. Members on both sides of the House will understand if that limits my ability to give way, because I want to concentrate on the debate rather than raise fresh issues.
In a spirit of friendship I shall start on a note that I am sure will unite the House. I congratulate the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) and for Yardley on their maiden speeches from the Opposition Front Bench. I thought that they both performed well—by account, in the first case, and from the evidence of my own eyes and ears in the second. The hon. Member for Walton and I meet relatively regularly due to my role as sponsor Minister for Merseyside, but I can reassure him—he may need it—that any agreement that we regularly find 583 on matters involving Merseyside has not yet been evident over most of the education issues that have been discussed today.
The hon. Member for Walton highlighted performance tables. Speaking from the Government Benches, it is only fair for me to welcome the new support from the Labour party for the principle of performance tables with value added. I recognise that that has still to be worked through some parts of the Labour party.
The hon. Gentleman also asked, quite properly, about the progress on Ofsted inspections. I readily confirm that in this term we have had some difficulties in securing the flow of inspections that we have sought in primary schools. Her Majesty's chief inspector has taken a number of steps to deal with the matter, including using Her Majesty's inspectors and Ofsted to lead some inspections of primary and special schools. The House will realise that it is too early to judge whether that has been successful. We are in the first three months of the first year of the cycle of primary school inspection. It remains the Government's clear intention to ensure that every school is inspected within the four-year cycle, as originally set out.
The hon. Gentleman—and I suspect almost all hon. Members—predictably referred to grant-maintained schools. I shall not contribute an enormous amount to the subject. I think that my hon. Friends have more than coped in their efforts to expose what can best be described as a certain embarrassment on the subject among Labour Members at present.
Self-governing status for schools is not an end in itself; it is a means by which schools improve themselves and improve the standard of education offered. I recently read that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) was quoted as saying that he wanted to investigate what it was that made GM schools special. If, unlike so many of his colleagues, he is prepared to visit GM schools, not regard them with utter hostility, hoping that they will go away, he will discover from heads, staff and parents that, at heart, what they like is is the ability to run the whole of the school, the immediacy of decision making, better value for money and greater freedom. If he remains unconvinced he can always bring the matter to the shadow Cabinet, which might yet be formed of a majority of GM parents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has apologised to the House for his inability to be present for the conclusion of the debate, as has the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright). As ever, my hon. Friend speaks with great authority on matters educational. He rightly spoke of the welcome rise in standards as measured by GCSE results. That fact was welcomed on both sides of the Chamber. It is clear evidence that the anti-studying ethos that was a problem in so many of our schools, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s, has been significantly reduced.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth mentioned the Government's attitude to a general teaching council, as did the hon. Member for Bath. I can confirm that nothing has changed in Government policy since the conference of the Professional Association of Teachers and the correspondence with Professor Tomlinson in the summer. A professional body, established voluntarily by teachers and committed to high standards in teaching, would be a 584 positive and welcome step and would not need statutory powers to be effective. As Professor Tomlinson knows, we are willing to discuss such proposals when he or others are ready.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth also mentioned the problem of the numbers of religious education teachers. There have been some shortages, but the numbers are increasing. As the numbers going into teacher training and coming out of it are increasing, the problem is obviously declining.
I also sympathised with what the hon. Gentleman had to say about modern language teaching in primary schools. Although such teaching is not a statutory requirement, a growing number of primary schools are offering modern languages; and I hope, in the space created by the curriculum reforms, that further primary schools may take up the option. It is of some advantage both to the children and to our country.
My long-time hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) gave, as ever, a thoughtful speech. I could have spent my whole speech dealing with his points, but time will allow me to mention only two or three of them. He joined in what must be a universal welcome for the stability that now seems to be with us. A period of stability for the curriculum is, we recognise, important for our schools. The Government's commitment to five years without change remains firm. We shall most certainly stick to it.
My hon. Friend also highlighted the importance of mathematics. I am sure that he, like me, welcomes the creation of the first 50 technology colleges, with their concentration on science, technology and mathematics. The numbers will grow, not least because we have enhanced the opportunities for all schools, including LEA county schools, to seek that status. Although they have been in operation as technology colleges for only a short time, they are already starting to influence their pupils, and they are certainly popular with parents.
My hon. Friend's third point—if I did not mention it, he would tick me off afterwards—was to reiterate his long-held commitment to nursery schooling, which he has championed for many years. I am delighted to note that he now sees broad agreement between his views and those of the Government.
I gather that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) intervened to mention some DFE press release that he had seen, quoting projections of numbers of GM schools. I can confirm here and now that there is no such press release, although there have to be working assumptions for all projected budgets.
§ Mr. Don Foster
I was referring not to a specific set of figures in a press release but to an ability to work backwards from the budget figures to extrapolate from them what the assumptions must have been—that is why I asked the Minister about the assumptions.
§ Mr. Squire
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the tables, he can make that sort of calculation more quickly than I can standing here. Here, as in so many other areas, each year we have to make some projections, but they are not necessarily predictions of what will happen.
The hon. Member for Bath also drew attention to what can best be described as the utter confusion in the Labour party on the matter of GM schools. But just when I was about to agree with him, he used phrases such as "GM 585 failure". These are schools which, by any standard, are usually more popular with parents and are obtaining better results than LEA comprehensives. Ofsted has said that they often exhibit higher teacher morale and lower truancy rates. Some failure! Would that all our schools performed as well as most GM schools do.
The hon. Gentleman also commented on Ofsted. I hope that he will take into account what I said earlier when responding to a point made by the hon. Member for Hemsworth. The independent inspectorate stands quite apart from the DFE policy units. The inspectorate not only highlights good and bad schools—the latter being the ones that require attention—but also informs future policy making. They are independent of the Government and we must look at our own policies from time to time, especially in terms of how we can improve schools in general.
I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), who highlighted the excellent improvement in examination results in his constituency. I congratulate the schools involved and assure him that there is no question of debasing the standards and quality of our examinations, GCSE or any other. There is now a system to ensure that that cannot happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak spent some time correctly pointing out that, while there is an element in the standard spending assessment for measuring sparsity, it is not necessarily to be found within an individual LEA's locally managed school scheme. I have exchanged a considerable amount of correspondence with hon. Members on that subject. My hon. Friend made it clear in his speech that responsibility for the LMS scheme lies absolutely with the local authority. If as he suggested it is currently discriminating against some small but excellent schools, I trust that the opportunity that he has taken to highlight that will be widely read in his constituency and elsewhere in Derbyshire.
I shall dare to praise my hon. Friend for a third time by saying that he spoke wisely about depoliticising the issue of grant-maintained schools. It is quite common for some GM school governors to say to me, "We are not Conservatives." Of course, that is a temporary unpopularity. However, they wish that their parties, whether they are Liberal Democrat or Labour, were more in tune and appreciated the success and importance of grant-maintained status. They share my hon. Friend's view that those schools are here to stay in their present form.
I have enjoyed considerable discussion in Committee and in the House in recent years with the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall), who spoke of his concern about performance tables. I absolutely respect his right to hold the views that he expressed, but he must accept that, at least in some schools, there is clear evidence that heads and senior members of staff have combined to ensure that the appearance of the tables and the relatively poor position of some schools have served to galvanise them to improve their schools. That has been shown by the performance either this year or in a previous year.
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West spoke about the balance of funding through the standard spending assessment. In view of the time that is available, he would not expect me to go into the highways and byways of that, but I am sure he accepts that there can be no question of standard spending per pupil across the country. Whether 586 one considers sparsity, much higher salaries in the south-east or the proportion of pupils who have free school meals or have English as a second language, there must be a means of measuring schools in areas with different factors or sometimes problems. It is right that such schools should get extra funding.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) was, as ever, present for a debate on matters educational. He emphasised the issue of choice and I was delighted to hear him refer to the Labour white paper of just four months ago and to read out the marvellous passage from it that this wasconsultation not seen since the 1944 Education Act.My hon. Friend will agree that, in a year or two, we will be lucky if we see the white paper again in any shape or form.
I agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of primary grant-maintained schools expanding. The number is going up and I suspect—this is not a prediction—that within a year or so there will be more GM primary schools than GM secondary schools.
My near neighbour the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) alleged failure at a time when there are improved numbers in higher education and higher grades at GCSE and other examinations and a wider range of courses on offer. She was rightly and wisely corrected in a brilliant short speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin). The hon. Lady was wrong about nursery education and she was certainly wrong on her general charge that standards were not rising. They are continuing to rise.
Let me draw up a brief checklist of where we stand on standards in education. We welcome the fact that there is some agreement on the national curriculum, possibly on testing and certainly on publication of performance tables, but if we are talking of quality, what about assisted places, whereby some of the brightest from some of the poorest households are currently educated in some of our best schools? What about selective schools, where some l70 schools, including some of the best in the country on educational merits and examination success, are threatened by the Labour party? What about city technology colleges, which have an all-ability intake and are out-performing the average in virtually every LEA in which they are situated? Finally, of course, what about grant-maintained schools, where the Labour party can go neither forward nor backwards, but can only watch as the popularity of such schools increases?
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.