§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Estelle Morris)
This Government's top priority is to raise school standards. Since we took office, my colleagues and I have met a wide range of individuals and organisations, and have taken full advantage of the opportunities to listen to their views.
§ Mr. Amess
Will the Minister join me in congratulating all the schools in my constituency of Southend, West on their efforts to improve education standards? Will she reassure, in particular, grant-maintained and selective schools that the new Government will do nothing to damage their efforts? Finally, will she undertake to examine the Essex common schools funding formula carefully? At present, the formula works in favour of small schools to the detriment of large schools, particularly Westborough primary school in my constituency, which has 784 pupils.
§ Ms Morris
I am delighted to congratulate all schools that raise standards in the hon. Gentleman's new constituency, and indeed in all constituencies. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate schools that do well in Basildon as well.
1030 Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government have no intention of preventing any school, whatever its status, from raising standards. The sooner we shift the debate to standards and away from structure, the better it will be for all children. My hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards is giving careful attention to all matters financial; he will note what the hon. Gentleman has said, together with any representations that are made. We want fair funding, and we realise that, in the transition to it, we must not damage schools that are paramount in the provision of education.
§ Ms Hodge
My hon. Friend will have read about the case of the 15-year-old girl who appears to have been expelled from a school in Nottinghamshire. Does she share my concern about the fact that a young girl has apparently been expelled simply for complaining about education standards in the school? Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the agenda for raising education standards must be listening to the voice of consumers—parents and students?
§ Ms Morris
My hon. Friend will understand that, until we receive a report on the incident, it is inappropriate for us to comment here. We have asked for such a report. I understand that the school has now broken up for the holidays, but that the child and her parents will appeal to the governors to ensure that the case is brought to a satisfactory end, as I hope it will be. They should have that right of appeal, and I think that the most sensible option is to let the appeal take its course and to hope that the matter can be resolved locally. That is where it should be resolved. I know that the governing body, together with the head teacher, will want to put the educational interests of the child at the forefront of its decisions.
§ Mr. Don Foster
Does the Minister agree that, if we are to raise standards in our schools, we need high-quality teachers? Is she aware that, in the past 12 months, 16,000 heads, deputies and teachers left the profession early? Is she further aware that, over the past five years, there has been an 11 per cent. reduction in the number of people entering the profession? Finally, is she aware that, because of the inadequacies in the Chancellor's Budget for education, there will be further cuts in the teacher work force next year? Taken together, those facts are a ticking time bomb. How does the Minister intend to prevent it from exploding
§ Ms Morris
I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the shortfall in teacher recruitment figures, which I have discussed with him. We need our best graduates in teaching—people who are good leaders and good teachers and who want to take their share of responsibility for educating the next generation.
The Government will put at the forefront of their intentions plans to attract the best into teaching. The consultation which my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards launched this morning on the general teaching council is one of the many ways in which we are attempting to attract better graduates into teaching. We inherited a difficult situation from our predecessors in terms of teacher supply; they took no action to deal with the problem. We shall take action, and we hope to make announcements in due course.
1031 I am proud of the Chancellor's settlement. It means that extra money will go into schools this year for capital and revenue spending, and I know that schools throughout the country will greatly welcome that.
§ Mr. Bill O'Brien
When considering standards in schools and the quality of teachers, will my hon. Friend have regard to the quality of the buildings in which teachers and children have to teach and learn? In particular, will she have regard to the primary school in Wrenthorpe in my constituency, which is an old building? We need new buildings for people to teach and work in.
§ Ms Morris
I agree with my hon. Friend that the condition of school buildings plays its part in our mission to help to raise standards. He will welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor which put £1 billion over four years into building capital. We have much to make up, given what we inherited from the Conservative Government. I assure my hon. Friend that we take seriously our obligations to make sure that our children learn in satisfactory circumstances. As he knows, we have made a good start with this year's financial settlement.