I beg to move,
That this House is profoundly alarmed at the crisis in the nation's schools and the collapse in teacher morale, the serious problems of retention and recruitment, the deteriorating state of school buildings, and the under-funding of the system; condemns Her Majesty's Government for its lack of ambition and leadership for the nation's young, for pushing through changes which are adding to the crisis, for the fact that one-third of children are getting a raw deal, and that fewer young people stay on in full-time education than in any major competitor country; and calls for action now to raise the standards of education and to invest properly in the nation's future.
I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. A large number of hon. Members wish to participate in this debate and, sadly, as a result of our late start, it will be impossible to call them all. I shall be able to call many more if speeches from both the Front Benches, and also the Back Benches, are brief.
This late start owes nothing to the endeavours of the Opposition and everything to the attempts by Conservative Members to sabotage an Opposition day yet again.
Across the country there is a rising sense of crisis in our schools. It is a crisis recognised in all areas by people of all political persuasions. It is a crisis for which the Government are overwhelmingly responsible. Some 11 years ago, this Administration came to power promising to promote higher standards of achievement. Similar pledges were made in 1983. The 1987 Conservative manifesto stated:
The time has now come for school reform.
We do not know how many votes were garnered on the promise of those so-called reforms. We do know what has happened. Ill-considered, meritricious and often contradictory changes have turned out to be a lethal cocktail which has brought the school system to a lower point than at any time since the war.
The Government's prospectus for the system has clearly failed. The Secretary of State knows that. In April, The Independent on Sunday stated:
Many of the school and college changes introduced by Kenneth Baker when he was Secretary of State for Education are falling apart. His successor, John MacGregor, is increasingly preoccupied with a damage limitation exercise.
The scale of the crisis caused by that damage can scarcely be exaggerated. Every day, I receive letters and reports from head teachers, governors and parents, worried sick about their children's education. Those representations come more often from traditional Conservative areas than from Labour's heartlands.
The chairman of governors of a large and successful secondary school in Cheltenham wrote to me:
the supply of teachers"—
even in her area—
is becoming such a problem that the state education service is under threat.
I have a letter from the headmaster of Hyde primary school in Hampshire, which has no physical education
hall, kitchen, dining area or playing fields and has outside toilets for boys. The headmaster said that inadequate funding under the local management for schools formulae was causing him to "cut back staffing". That point is underlined in a survey published today by the National Association of School Masters/Union of Women Teachers. It shows that well over 3,000 jobs are likely to be lost as a direct result of the introduction of the local management of schools.
School buildings across the country are in an appalling state. There is a £3 billion backlog. The Bucks Herald led its issue of 7 June with the headline, "Crumbling Schools Crisis" and quoted the county architect, John Stewart, as saying:
We are rapidly reaching the point … where we can no longer keep pace with the progressive dilapidation of the buildings under our control.
Saving money, making do and mend, is a constant theme of the reports and letters that I receive. The Mail on Sunday led its edition of 27 May with the headline:
The Scandal of Our Schools.
Britain's State education system is in danger of collapse,
according to disturbing new research commissioned by the National Foundation for Educational Research. It continued:
Only huge contributions from parents are saving schools from a complete breakdown.
The research that the paper quoted found that one third of all money spent in schools on books and equipment came from parents, who were providing nearly £40 million for primary schools alone.
What a mockery all that makes of parental choice, of which we hear so much from the Secretary of State. The choice facing many parents is no choice at all—the "choice" of paying up a second time for essentials for their children's education, which they thought they had already paid for once through taxation.
The very principle of free state education is being whittled away by the Government. For example, what kind of choice have the parents of children at Crawford primary school in Southwark? One class there has had four teachers this term, and the children were told a couple of days ago that they would have to be sent home until September. There are overwhelming teacher shortages, because teachers' salaries are insufficient. Some secretaries in the area are paid more than they are, and the Government have poll tax capped the local education authority.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when I visited a London school when Labour was in office I found that one class had had the misfortune to have seven teachers in one term? We all agree that it is extremely difficult to teach in London, and that is one of the reasons why the Government have introduced education reforms. No one condones the present position; however, the problems were infinitely worse under Labour, and were not solved under its Administration either.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is an appalling indictment of the system that parents have had to take over and teach children at Crawford primary school? They have been told that otherwise the children will have to be sent home, and there will be no more schooling for them until next term, at the beginning of September. Have not the Government been appallingly complacent in ignoring the problems of teacher shortages in London, especially south-east London?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Secretary of State for Education and Science has shown abject complacency: he has washed his hands of responsibility for what is happening, not only in inner London but in many other parts of Britain where he is seeking to ensure that authorities spend less than they do now. He is more concerned about the level of poll tax bills than about ensuring that children receive a decent education.
I was hoping to quote the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) later in my speech. In a fine speech at Chatham House, he said that there must be an increase of one third in spending on state education. He caustically asked any of his hon. Friends who might challenge that policy whether any of them, or their children, had ever been inside a state school.
My answer to the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) is that, just as the Leader of the House cannot say what tax rates will be—even on the day before the Budget—I cannot say exactly how much we shall spend when we are in government, in two years' time. With the backing of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I can say for sure that a Labour Government will spend more on education and training, because it is essential for the economy of this country and its survival that we start investing in the nation's future, instead of undermining it.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reading my speech—let alone quoting from it—but I fear that he may have inadvertently failed to give the House the full flavour of what I said. I said that I was in favour of increased spending on education, but emphatically not in favour of putting any money at all into the failed education philosophy represented by the Labour party.
I know what the hon. Gentleman said, but I was going to send the hon. Gentleman a few tracts so that he would realise that we are thinking along the same lines.
So tight is the financial squeeze on primary schools that, on average, they are given less than the cost of four Mars bars a week to spend on books and educational equipment for their children—a point eloquently made by the president of the National Association of Head Teachers.
Some reports of school responses to the squeeze have a grotesque, pathetic flavour. The Daily Telegraph reported on 23 June that the Chilvers Coton first school in Nuneaton saved money by cutting paper towels in half but had stopped the practice after two pupils had contracted hepatitis.
These accounts of life in the English schools system in 1990 are confirmed by a succession of official reports. The Government-appointed teachers' pay committee in its report in February said that teacher morale was lower even than in 1989–90. That was also recognised by the Select Committee. There was also a stark message from the teachers' pay committee that the pay award forced through the House three weeks ago would lead to a real pay cut for almost every teacher.
Some 50 per cent. of newly trained teachers leave the profession within five years. The proportion of graduates entering teacher training has halved in eight years and at Cambridge university it halved in a year last year. The Secretary of State denies that there is a problem. He held a press conference on Friday to announce the success of recruitment advertising by Saatchi and Saatchi. He is so complacent about teachers and teaching that in the litany of self-congratulation in his amendment there is not a single mention of teachers.
If it is all so good out there, will the Secretary of State now guarantee to every parent that no child will be without a properly qualified, permanent teacher in front of the class in September? I invite the Secretary of State to answer that question. He does not respond, so I shall repeat the question. I am asking for a simple reply. He says that there is no problem and proclaims the success of Saatchi and Saatchi's advertising. Will he guarantee to every parent that no child will be without a properly qualified, permanent teacher in front of the class in September?
No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am waiting for the Secretary of State to answer my question. The Secretary of State has been given two opportunities to reply and has failed to do so.
The most damning part of the Government's record is the report from Her Majesty's senior chief inspector of schools which stated that, in terms of educational standards, 30 per cent. of pupils—over 2 million—were getting a raw deal. What an indictment of the Government after 11 years in power. The Secretary of State's amendment refers to the local management of schools and the national curriculum.
The hon. Gentleman's dismissal of the efforts of teachers and his slighting of their efforts will be bitterly resented in common rooms throughout Britain. [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the courtesy to listen. I know that basically he is a courteous man. When he and I first met we were attacking wicked cuts in education by the Labour Government of the day. At that time he had the courage to stand up to his party, but he seems to have lost that courage. The hon. Gentleman will remember that in 1976 there was such a shortage of teachers that those of us who were running schools had to scour the streets in an effort to find people. [Interruption.]
I did not hear the remark, but I saw the hon. Gentleman making gestures that were clearly discourteous to the Chair. I hope that I shall not have to endure a repetition of that.
The Secretary of State's amendment refers to the local management of schools and the national curriculum. In both cases the Government have taken a good idea and nearly murdered it. Centrally dictated formulae for funding which take no proper account of a school's circumstances are barmy. A national core curriculum could and should be a guarantee of education entitlement for all children. There is a role for testing and assessment, and it is to diagnose children's strengths and weaknesses, and to provide information to parents and teachers on children's progress and on the performance of schools. However, Ministers have allowed this national curriculum and the formal testing associated with it to get completely out of hand.
On Friday the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), spoke about "wieldy and intimidating tests" which the Government have imposed by way of a pilot scheme on about 400 schools. He said that those tests for seven-year-olds would have to be reduced. Apparently even the Prime Minister has had second thoughts. In April she told The Sunday Telegraph that she wondered whether the Government were "doing it right" on the national curriculum. The answer to the Prime Minister's question is that her Government are doing it wrong and, despite the Secretary of State's blandishments, they continue to do it wrong.
In a thinly disguised attack on his predecessor, now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Secretary of State announced in February
measures to cut the burden of paperwork on schools caused by the Education Reform Act.
He claimed that that measure would save 150,000 sheets of printed paper. That sounds impressive, but it works out at just six sheets per school. It pales into insignificance compared with the 1,438 sheets of paper which almost every teacher has received and has to absorb under the national curriculum. That compares with more than half a billion sheets of paper which the system as a whole now has to digest.
The day after his damning report of the state of English education the senior chief inspector of schools gave an interview to The Daily Telegraph. He described the national curriculum and the local management of schools as a gamble. He said that in the short term it would exacerbate
teacher shortages and resourcing difficulties.
He was right. Ministers have been gambling with our children's education. Their behaviour is made all the more culpable by the fact that the spin of the wheel, the gamble, is always with other people's children and never with their own.
When the Opposition say that most Ministers have educated their children in the private sector the discomfort of Conservative Members is patently obvious. In February The Sunday Times said that, of 21 Cabinet members with children, 20 had sent their children to private schools at an average cost of a place today of £4,200 a year. That is twice the average of £1,900 in the state system. All three of the Secretary of State's children went to private school, as did both children of the previous Secretary of State.
No, I will not give way.
If those Ministers who sent their children to private schools were to apply the same policies and financial constraints to private schools as they apply to the schools which educate 95 per cent. of the country's children, they would be beyond reproach. In truth, they apply a double standard of breathtaking proportions which so mocks those in the maintained sector as to be immoral.
The national curriculum applies by law to state education but not to private schools. Rigid formula funding is imposed on state schools, but, under the assisted places scheme, no formula applies to state funding of private schools. The actual costs of up to £7,000 per day place are paid wherever they are incurred. Local authorities are poll charge capped for spending £1,900 per pupil while the state funds fees in private schools at two or three times that level per pupil. The standard spending assessments for education are set so low by the Secretary of State that local education authorities would have to cut millions from their budgets and sack thousands of teachers to get anywhere near those levels. However, private schools are able to raise fees well above the level of inflation.
Pay increases for teachers in state schools are held below the level of inflation, while private schools and city technology colleges are able to pay more to get the best. Private schools can use their influence to raise millions of pounds for laboratories and equipment while state schools are starved of cash. The conclusion to be drawn from such double dealing is that, like other people, Ministers want the best for their children but they believe that they can have that only if they pay for the best: for small classes; well-equipped laboratories; well-maintained buildings; and well-paid teachers. But it is different for other people's children. Ministers claim that they can get the best in larger classes and crumbling buildings, with too little equipment, too few books, and a demotivated and underpaid teaching force.
Another consequence is that by boycotting the maintained system Ministers send out a clear message that they lack serious personal commitment to state education and that they are as profoundly ignorant of its achievements as they are of what needs to be done to sustain and improve it.
I have already explained to the hon. Gentleman, although I realise that he does not like it, that I am not going to give way any more because of lack of time. He should make his own speech. Perhaps he might complain to the Government Whips about their attempts to sabotage this debate earlier.
The Sunday Times recorded in February that the Secretary of State sent his son, who is now grown up, to Highgate school, which is on the border of the London boroughs of Camden and Haringey. Fees at that school amount to more than £4,000 per pupil per year, and many of its pupils are subsidised by the state through the assisted places scheme.
How can the Secretary of State justify poll tax capping Camden and Haringey local education authorities, which are spending £1,200 less per child in their charge than he thought it right to spend on his child? Would he be happy to have his child educated with the level of resources that the Government have dictated is sufficient for poll tax capped authorities to spend in the north, the north-west, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Greater London and Avon?
I hope that the Secretary of State will now respond to a second question, because his amendment claims that there have been
lasting improvements in standards in schools
in the past 11 years. If, as the Secretary of State claims, 11 years of Tory Government have led to lasting improvements in the state system, is that system now good enough for him to have his child educated by it? I invite the Secretary of State to reply to this critical question about whether the Government apply one standard or two to the education of our children. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] For the second time today, we have seen the Secretary of State refuse to answer questions—first about whether he could guarantee that every child in a state school will have a teacher in September; and secondly about whether, after 11 years of Tory Government, the state system is sufficiently good to educate his children or those of his Cabinet colleagues. What a lack of confidence that displays in the system over which he and his colleagues have presided for 11 years.
My hon. Friend may not have heard several Tory Members accusing him, from a sedentary position, of personalising the debate and of attacking only the Secretary of State. Does my hon. Friend realise that 250 Tory Members have been to public school and received private education? As a section of society, they are not prepared to give our children the same facilities, the same pupil-teacher ratios and the same start in life that 250 of them received.
No. I have given way more to Conservative Members than to my hon. Friends.
By any serious international standards, the state to which the Government have reduced the education system is a disgrace. "National scandal" was the phrase used by Derek Jewell, the chairman of the Headmasters' conference of private schools, to describe state funding of the system which, as a proportion of national wealth, has declined in the past 11 years. We need a Government with a clear ambition for the nation's young people, ready to set targets for raising academic performance and the percentage of young people staying on at school, with clear mechanisms for delivering those targets. We need a Government committed to investing more in young people's education, and equally committed—by example, leadership and systematic appraisal of performance—to ensuring that we get more out of that investment and end the enormous and unacceptable variations in performance between otherwise similar schools. We would get all that from a Labour Government, but the Secretary of State has no ambition and no leadership: he is a Treasury placement so uninterested in the effect on children's lives of the policy to which he is a party that he could not even bring himself to meet education representatives from poll tax capped authorities.
Incredibly, instead of using demographic decline to secure a once-in-a-lifetime boost to the staying-on rate after 16, without substantial extra cost, the Secretary of State in his public expenditure White Paper plans to cut 80,000 places in full-time education for 16 to 19-year-olds, and he stands supinely by while the Secretary of State for Employment cuts nearly £300 million from the budget for training young people.
As ever, as the Government flounder, Ministers start to blame each other.
Senior Conservatives are alarmed by Labour's growing lead in the polls over the government's education policies,
reported The Independent on Sunday on 18 June.
The shift of opinion in Labour's favour has been greater than on any other issue…The Prime Minister and Kenneth Baker blame John MacGregor the Secretary of State for Education for failing to promote Government changes".
A month ago we learned from a report which has the fingerprints of the Conservative party chairman all over it that the Secretary of State was to be given a new public relations minder—a man called Robin Light—as Central Office was so worried about the Secretary of State's performance.
To add insult to injury, we read in yesterday's diary in The Times of an attempt to bail out the Secretary of State:
Conceding that education is their weakest area, a number of Tory MPs say Mrs. Currie should join John MacGregor's team and add flair and excitement to a lacklustre department.
I do not wish to intrude on private grief, but the piece continued:
MacGregor, who as agriculture minister had to take much of the flak over her salmonella-in-eggs gaffe, might suggest another description.
It also raised questions not only about the future of the Secretary of State but about that of the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State. Although Conservative Members may want them to go, we want them to stay, because every time they open their mouths they raise our lead in the polls.
In a catalogue of failure, few policies have failed so monumentally as opting-out. In 1987, the Prime Minister predicted that by the next election—which will be next year or the year after—most eligible schools would have opted out of local authority control. That would amount to thousands. The dice have been heavily loaded in favour of opted-out schools. The advice that the Department of Education and Science has issued to schools has been so biased that even the Tory-controlled Association of County Councils has protested. Despite that, not thousands, not hundreds but only 44 schools have opted out, with more in Tory-controlled than in Labour-controlled areas.
So the Prime Minister, who is pathologically obsessed about local education authorities, announced off the cuff to a conference 10 days ago that opting out is to be made easier, and that the local government finance system will be rigged so that poll tax can be reduced where schools opt out. When that emerged, the Secretary of State was reduced to getting his press officer to telephone journalists to tell them that there is no difference of opinion between him and the Prime Minister.
If there is no difference of opinion, will the Secretary of State tell us now, or in his speech, how the scheme for cutting the poll tax is to work, how the new arrangements for opting out are to work and how such further upheaval squares with a categorical undertaking that he gave in an interview on 9 March, that
No new school reforms would be introduced by a Conservative government until 1994 at the earliest"?
That the centrepiece of the Government's answer to the educational challenges of the 1990s should be fiddled ballots for opting out is a mark of the mediocrity to which their education thinking has now been reduced.
It first dawned on this country towards the end of the last century that the rise of Germany as an industrial power had been built upon superior investment in education and training. Then other countries such as Japan, the United States, France and Italy overtook us. Our £20 billion trade deficit is paralleled by an even bigger deficit in the education and skills of our young people. If we are to compete as well as to give our young people their birthright, we must invest in their education and training. We need an end to the Government and an end to their wilful damage of our education service. We need a Government who are committed to a state education system, who use the system and who have real ambition for the nation's young. The only way to achieve that is to have a Labour Government.
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
congratulates the Government on its programme for securing further lasting improvements in standards in schools through its policies for the national curriculum; assessment and testing, increased parental choice, and greater autonomy for schools; notes increased recurrent and capital expenditure since 1979 in real terms per pupil of 40 per cent. and 13 per cent., respectively; notes widespread public support for the Government's reforms and welcomes the significant increase in staying on rates among 16 and 17-year-olds in the last two years and in the numbers going on to higher education which show the success of the Government's policies; and contrasts this inspiring programme with the failure of the Opposition to produce alternative proposals offering similar leadership for the nation's young.".
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made a profound speech. However, having listened to his speeches since I became Secretary of State, I am bound to say that they have three characteristics. First, the hon. Gentleman always uses the same material and it is getting pretty tired and trivial now. Secondly, his sole preoccupation seems to be to string together every negative quotation and every negative statistic that he can find—and they can be found
in every country and in every education system—and by lumping them all together he seems to think that he is making some sort of contribution to the education debate. Let me tell him quite clearly that he is not. The picture that he gave today is unbalanced, incoherent and a travesty of what is happening in our schools.
Is the Secretary of State aware that in my constituency alone six primary schools regularly send children home and that six and seven-year-olds go to school only to be told again that there is no teacher for them? What will the Secretary of State do to guarantee a decent education for Southwark children?
I shall come to that point in due course, because we have been doing a great deal. But it is a travesty to suggest that what happens in some schools in Southwark is typical of what is happening throughout the country.
The hon. Member for Blackburn completely failed to acknowledge the substantial progress that is being made. He has given no credit, please note, to the teachers for their many recent achievements. His sole intent is on black headlines and never mind the real story. He is the classical perpetual Opposition spokesman.
Thirdly, once again the hon. Gentleman has failed to answer the key question that has been put to him so often from the Conservative Benches—what would Labour actually spend? It is not enough for him to claim that resources are insufficient when his own policy document is long on platitudes, short on costs and takes refuge in those all pervasive words "as resources allow".
Of course, I believe in spending as resources allow, but the big difference is that, by its hints that it will spend more, the Labour party somehow pretends that that does not matter. But the record shows that this Government have been spending more on education than the previous Labour Government did because we have been improving the resources. That is the key difference. The question that the hon. Member for Blackburn never answers is what a Labour Government would spend. The answer is clear from his silence in every debate that we have had—not a penny more. That simple fact destroys the whole of his speech.
On an earlier occasion I described a decade of action under this Government: to improve education standards, to extend opportunity and choice and to improve the management of steadily increasing resources. I deal now with the ground that we have covered in the past year.
First, the programme for the national curriculum is well on target. There is absolutely no retreat. The House has approved programmes of study for English, maths, science and technology. We are completing work on geography, history and modern languages. The proposals are rigorous and have widespead support. We are taking practical decisions on arrangements for assessment, ensuring that they achieve their objectives in a workable way.
On assessment at seven, it is right to try different types of schemes. They are being piloted in 2 per cent. of schools. They are not in full application and they are not being reported. We shall be assessing the pilot schemes and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am determined that that assessment will be carried out in a workable way. But it must be real assessment, which improves standards and—I think the hon. Gentleman agrees with this—which achieves the results that we seek. We must strike the right balance and we shall do so.
In the classroom, Her Majesty's inspectors report excellent progress in the range and quality of work in the core subjects. There was not a word from the hon. Gentleman about that. There is a marked improvement in curriculum planning. I meet many teachers who are making good use of that national framework for exercising their professional skills. That has been a major programme of work and reform and it will continue to be so for some years ahead.
In April, all but a handful of local education authorities introduced schemes for local management of schools. That gives schools fairer shares of the education budget and much greater autonomy in the management of their affairs. In itself, it does not alter the total resources available, but it distributes them in a more open way, based on better and clearer criteria. One in eight schools already have delegated budgets. Next year, it will be one in four. That will reduce local bureaucracy. It has made schools and local education authorities more accountable and it has enhanced the position of head teachers and staff in line with changes in the pay structure that reward leadership and responsibility.
If the hon. Lady talks to teachers in schools that have piloted local management of schools during the past few years, they will tell her of the benefits.
No, I shall not give way. I have already said that I would not give way again.
During the past school year we have lifted artificial limits on the places available in popular secondary schools. By this September the number of grant-maintained schools will have increased from 18 to 44. The number of applicants to those schools has risen sharply—by 40 per cent. on average this coming September. There has been a remarkable change in atmosphere and morale and proposals are already coming from another 16 schools.
The same goes for city technology colleges. Four more will open next term to join the four already in operation. Again, the demand from parents for places for their children in those city technology colleges is high.
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Blackburn is so implacably opposed to that policy. He cannot bear the thought that those schools are proving so popular. The Labour party prefers the monopoly supply of a uniform product. It likes to think that it knows what is best for children and is determined to deprive parents of that choice.
We have set in hand a major programme of work towards further improving the standard and relevance of post-16 education and the proportion of young people who benefit from it. Those improvements start in schools. We have introduced the general certificate of secondary education and the technical and vocational education initiative. That has markedly increased standards of attainment.
In 1989, the proportion of candidates achieving grades A to C increased from the previous year by 3.5 percentage points to 46 per cent. It is encouraging that many more young people are staying on in full-time education. To listen to the hon. Gentleman, one would not think that such things had happened. He does not like hearing about them. He prefers to talk his way through them.
The first year after the introduction of the GCSE saw the participation of 16-year-olds rise to 52 per cent. In the second year, 1989–90, provisional figures suggest that as many as 56 per cent. Of 6-year-olds are now engaged in full-time education. Provisional figures from the largest examining body, the Associated Examining Board, suggest that the number taking A and AS examinations is likely to be the highest ever even though there are fewer pupils in the relevant age group. All of that is working through to substantially higher numbers going into higher education—more than 1 million students now compared with 750,000 in 1979. The number is increasing markedly year by year, with an increase of about 10 per cent. in the past year in the number going to universities and polytechnics. There is a clear sign that that will continue next year.
We have now implemented this year's pay settlement, based on the interim advisory committee's admirable report, enabling us to introduce further improvements to the career structure, local flexibility and rewards for responsibility and classroom skills. All of that, to use the report's own words, can surely be described as far reaching.
Will the Secretary of State now answer the question that I put to him twice during my speech? If things are so good for the teaching profession, can he guarantee that no child will be without a permanent properly qualified teacher in front of his or her class this September?
Did the Labour Government ever give that guarantee, and would one ever do so in future? I shall deal with the position of teachers later, but I will tell the hon. Gentleman now why that is a false question. There are problems in some geographical areas and in some skills. Some issues of considerable standing reflect not simply on the education system but on the geographical area in which they arise. We have been taking a number of actions to deal with those problems, at a time when recruitment for all sorts of occupations is becoming more intense. I am not prepared to be unrealistic and to give such a guarantee, but we are doing a great deal to address the issues.
That question was about as silly as the hon. Gentleman's other question, which I shall now answer. I sent half of my children to state schools and the other half to independent schools. That was a considerable time ago. It is right that people should have that choice. If I had children now, I should happily send them to the many excellent schools in Norfolk. However, at the time I was concerned about the quality and direction of education that was being provided in the borough, and I exercised choice, which I think is a parental right. We have the assisted places scheme to extend the range of choice. I note that the hon. Gentleman went to Brentwood school in Essex, which takes pupils on the assisted places scheme. Would he deny others the opportunity to give their children the education that he had, by abolishing the assisted places scheme? That is one of the questions that he must answer.
I am delighted to answer the question. The reason why I am in the Labour party and not in the Tory party is that I want every child to have a similar opportunity with a similar level of resources. The test is not where someone went to school, but where he sent his children to school. Let us consider the example of the school that the right hon. Gentleman's son attended. Some £4,000 per pupil is spent by the state at Highgate school, while the Government are poll tax-capping two London boroughs, Haringey and Camden, which are spending £2,800 per pupil—£1,200 less. How is that justified?
I have already written to the hon. Gentleman about that. He has completely missed the point about parental choice and opportunities for different sorts of education. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have written to him saying that the comparisons being made were bogus because he failed to take into account parental contribution and other considerations. I shall repeat what I said in my letter to him. Once an allowance is made for those areas of spending, there is little difference in the average payment made in support of an assisted place and the average secondary unit cost. That deals with that point.
I have just completed wide-ranging consultations on the future pay mechanisms for teachers with a view to introducing legislation next Session. We are continuing with—indeed, adding to—a substantial package of measures on teacher recruitment, including investing in measures to tackle shortages in particular subjects, and an advertising recruitment campaign, which is having an excellent response, but which, typically, the hon. Gentleman tries to denigrate. Those are just a few of the many very positive areas of achievement and progress in the past year.
There is one new announcement that I wish to make this afternoon. I am today writing to the local authority associations setting out my proposed support grants programme for 1991–92. There are three background points that I wish to stress before giving the detailed figures. First, as announced earlier this year, I am accepting the recommendation of a recent efficiency scrutiny that the education support grant and local education authority training grant scheme should be brought together into a single programme. Next year's grant programme will reflect that.
Secondly, it must be borne in mind that that programme is small in relation to total spending on schools, which this year will amount to well over £11,000 million. The actual expenditure on the subjects that I am about to announce will often be a good deal greater than the amounts supported under the grant programme itself, because a great deal will come out of that £11,000 million as well. Nevertheless, the programme has an important effect in ensuring targeting of significant sums on specific aspects of policy.
Thirdly, I held meetings with local authority representatives earlier this year during which I said that the specific grants programme should be more effectively concentrated on fewer items of high priority, and I suggested those that I had in mind. There was general agreement with the views that I expressed.
I now propose a programme that will support no less than £364 million of expenditure in 1991–92. Of that, more than £270 million will be targeted on the education reforms of the 1988 Act, which we are now putting in place. That is a major funding boost. In 1990–91, education support grants and training grants are already supporting more than £190 million of spending on reforms. The programme that I am announcing today increases that by almost £80 million, or 40 per cent.
My proposals include almost £90 million of spending on activities to improve school management, including support for local management of schools, management training for school heads and other staff, and training and support for school governors. They include £170 million for activities underpinning the national curriculum, including a new £35 million activity to help get the new national curriculum assessment arrangements into place, a new activity to help schools buy more books, more support to help schools to buy information technology equipment, and more support for preparing teachers to teach the national curriculum.
The focus of the grants programme is very much on the education reforms. However, as in previous years, I intend that the grants should also cover other key areas. I am proposing a substantial increase in support for teacher recruitment. That will help local education authorities take steps to draw into teaching more mature entrants and former teachers, through setting up creches, taster courses, keeping-in-touch schemes, counselling services, and so on. There is a new activity to help local education authorities to improve provision for the under-fives, especially through better planning and co-ordination of work across the maintained and voluntary sectors. Full details of my proposals have been placed in the Library.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I should not give way again.
The grants programme that I am announcing today will provide significant and essential underpinning of the Government's education policies. It will ensure that funds are directed purposefully and effectively to where they are most needed. The £364 million is vital further support for schools and colleges that are already working so hard, helping them to make a real success of the reforms.
I shall now deal with some of the hon. Gentleman's specific charges. He referred to Her Majesty's inspectors' annual report and others. It is typical of him to be highly selective in what he quoted, so I shall cite some of the main findings to get the perspective right, and they are the main findings. Some 70 to 80 per cent. of work seen across schools and colleges was satisfactory or better; one third was good or very good. The beneficial impact of the Education Reform Act 1988 is already beginning to show. The implementation of the national curriculum is beginning to bring about specific and general improvement. The benefits of the GCSE and TVEI continue to be felt. That is all stated in the report.
Primary schools have made a rapid and effective start to implementing the national curriculum in the core subjects. Both in post-16 and in higher education, the general picture is that some 80 per cent. of what HMI saw was judged satisfactory or better. The quality of teaching and learning in further education colleges is generally satisfactory and slightly better than last year—just over 80 per cent. of the lessons were of good quality. The great majority of heads welcome the opportunity that local management of schools presents to control their budgets.
I could continue, and I think that it is right to do so, to put the perspective right because the hon. Gentleman always draws attention to the bits that could be improved without recognising all the things that have been done and the great improvements that have been made. It is demoralising for teachers if he continues constantly to emphasise that when there is so much good happening in the system. There will always be much more to do, improvements to be made, standards to be raised, new challenges to be met and new teaching methods brought in by technology to be exploited. We are doing a great deal to continue the improvement process.
The overall conclusion of the report states:
The overall picture is of a service in which most of what is done is of reasonable quality or better. That is a sound basis for improvement and change and should be recognised as such.
Opposition Members do themselves no credit and earn no thanks from the many hard-working and dedicated teachers whom I meet by constantly dwelling on the negative. They should do as we do, and accentuate the positive while taking effective action to improve what is poor.
On resources, the hon. Gentleman's speech contained nothing new—although I listened carefully to what he said. He asserted, by implication, that schools were starved of resources. He knows that that is not true. They are better staffed and better provided for than ever before. The pupil-teacher ratio is an all-time best. This is the bit that the hon. Member for Blackburn never likes to hear. Funding per pupil has risen more than 40 per cent. in real terms since 1979–80. Overall spending on the various sectors of education has also risen in real terms. There has been a 58 per cent. increase in provision for the under-fives, a 33 per cent. increase for special schools, 17 per cent. for primary schools, 12 per cent. for secondary schools, and more than 20 per cent. for further and adult education.
It costs nothing for the Labour party to say that it will spend even more "as resources allow". No one believes Labour anyway. Labour might pretend that it will spend even more "as resources allow", but we all know what that meant under the Labour Government of the 1970s. It meant positive reductions in some education programmes and a much smaller increase than we have achieved in others.
We all want education to benefit from increased prosperity. The Government's reforms will help in addition to get better value for the money already invested.
There are many more things that I could say, but in the interest of allowing other hon. Members to speak, I shall not respond to other charges made by the hon. Member for Blackburn. However, I shall address recent claims that local management will force schools to make thousands of teachers redundant. I have seen claims that tens of thousands would be made redundant—at one point the figure given was 70,000, but it has been whittled down and down. That simply is not the case. I quote:
Local management of schools serves as a convenient whipping boy for those unwilling to face up to the realities of falling rolls and surplus places.
Those words are not mine but come from an editorial that appeared in The Times Educational Supplement at the end of last month. In none of the cases of teacher redundancies reported in the press so far has the treatment of teacher salaries under local management of schools been a contributory factor.
What are the facts? First, vacancies. There are 400,000 teachers, and under this Government there have never been more than 2 per cent. of so posts vacant. The figure remains below that—and in many authorities, well below. What we must tackle is uneven distribution, particularly in inner London and in certain subjects.
Secondly, the number of teachers leaving the profession has not changed significantly for 10 years although migration from inner London has increased. But recruitment has also increased steadily. This year, 21,700 students started initial teacher training courses, which was 2.5 per cent. above target—and we are increasing the target. Primary recruitment was up by 13 per cent. Applications to postgraduate certificate of education courses starting in September are currently 5 per cent. up on this time last year. About 25,000 people enter or re-enter teaching each year.
The problem is local and subject-specific, and I agree that there are subject-specific issues. The reason is that the skills concerned—mathematics, physics and technology—are precisely the skills for which over decades we have not been producing enough people. That problem is now being addressed by the national curriculum, GCSE and TVEI. In an expanding and prosperous economy, they are also the skills that are in high demand. Our approach involves target-specific recruitment measures, including bursaries, which have improved the position, and the licensed and articled teachers scheme to bring back into teaching people who are more mature. In that context, the high response that we received in the recruitment advertising campaign from people aged over 26—graduates and non-graduates alike—was significant. Clearly, that is a well-targeted approach.
As to teachers' pay, there is more local flexibility and a willingness to pay more on a higher-grade scale for skills that are in short supply—which is what every other employer has to do. The recruitment campaign is designed not only to improve the status of teaching with the slogan that we have chosen but to attract more recruits, as every employer is now doing. Every employer is making the same approach. Those are the right ways of tackling the problem. Attendance at the various roadshows that we have run this year has also been very positive—75 per cent. up on last year.
The response that we are receiving to that targeted programme demonstrates that teaching as a career is attractive. I want to go on and on making it more attractive, including the perception held by the public at large. It would make much more sense if the hon. Member for Blackburn joined me in saying that "Teaching brings out the best in people," as the slogan says, and that teaching as a career is on the up.
That returns me to the remarks of the hon. Member for Blackburn, who never acknowledges the substantial achievements of recent years. Apart from the fact that the Labour party has nothing distinctive to say now about the great education reforms that we are carrying through, there are two fatal flaws in Labour's approach that undermine the hon. Gentleman's position. First, there is a clear policy distinction. The hon. Gentleman would abolish grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges and the assisted places scheme. That is because they give power and choice to parents. I warn the hon. Gentleman that he is making a big mistake. I suggest that he talks to parents, teachers and governors who pioneered the first grant-maintained schools and CTCs, and to pupils on the assisted places scheme who were given the opportunity and choice to which their parents want to contribute all that they can. If the hon. Gentleman does that, he will learn more about that which he is so anxious to destroy and how successful it all is.
Secondly—and I make no apology for returning to this—I must ask what the hon. Gentleman's policy is on resources. The only attack that he could develop today was that the Government are not spending enough on education. On the previous occasion when we debated education issues, I challenged the hon. Gentleman to explain Labour's position on resources for teachers' pay. He said that Labour would allow either free negotiations between teachers and employers or a review body without any cash limit. The morning after that debate, I wrote to the hon. Gentleman asking him to clear up the confusion between his statement and the phrase "as resources allow". I have now received a reply:
Cash limits would apply in the normal way"—
if it were a local authority negotiation—
or (if we inherited an interim advisory committee arrangement) as they do in respect of employees covered by Review Bodies.
So there would be cash limits "as resources allow". Still the hon. Gentleman has not answered my question and that of my hon. Friends. Is he promising anything in terms of extra money? His is a bogus attack.
The Government have a coherent policy for schools that is already achieving substantial results, and it will continue doing so. Standards will continue to rise. There will be greater diversity of schools, greater choice for parents, and the guarantee of a balanced curriculum for all pupils, with clear expectations of what they can achieve. That is why I urge the House to support the amendment.
The Secretary of State appears to be benign, rubicund and charming, but the same old vicious policies emerge as were embraced by his two predecessors. The Secretary of State says that there is no crisis. We chose the title of the debate, which we had to initiate because the Government never wants to debate education. We have to do that out of the small amount of time at our disposal, and today half an hour was pinched out of that, so it is again a very short debate.
We chose the theme of the crisis in our schools, because there is a crisis, and we know that that theme would find a response throughout the country. We knew that it would, if I may dare to use a pun, ring a bell—especially among the teaching profession.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) correctly said, there is no crisis in your schools. The crisis is in our schools—in the state education system. You do not have a crisis. You have the money, and you send your kids to your schools. Most of you went to the same schools yourselves.
I meant to refer to Conservative Members, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is Conservative Members who send their children to their schools, and who then cut and cut money from the schools that our children attend.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House spent almost 300 hours examining the Education Reform Bill. As I have said before, it is a deform Bill. It deforms the education system and everyone knows that it does. As the Act unfolds it becomes more desperate. The Minister says that he intends to recruit more teachers and has new methods of recruitment. He knows as well as I do that all he needs to do to recruit teachers is give them better conditions and wages and restore their negotiating rights. Britain is the only country that has withdrawn teachers' negotiating rights. We were condemned by the United Nations for doing that and so violating ordinary trade unionism.
We have seen long years of attacks on the teaching profession led by successive Ministers. Lord Joseph, then Sir Keith Joseph, led the way with vicious attacks against the profession. He was followed by the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker)—his constituency is aptly named—who is now chairman of the Conservative party. He launched deadly attacks all the way through. Teachers deeply resented those attacks which underestimated the teachers and, even more, undervalued their profession. They were hurt and they are bitter about it to this day. No matter what the Secretary of State says, the fact is that teachers have had to put up with attacks. Teachers were demeaned. Parents and other people were virtually asked by the Conservative party to undervalue and constantly attack the teaching profession.
Now the Secretary of State praises teachers. He says that he talks to tons of teachers. A while ago we found that he never talked to anyone in his constituency. He talked only to people in other constituencies. He should talk to teachers. They would ask him why they have no negotiating rights over their salaries. They would ask why there is a shortage of teachers not only in certain subjects but overall. They would ask him why the Select Committee issued an important report on teacher shortages, of which he seems to have taken no notice. The report was produced by not only Opposition Members but Conservative Members, who have a majority on the Committee. The Committee knew about the shortage of teachers and also knew that there was a crisis in that shortage.
The Secretary of State knows about the local management of schools. Often it is mismanagement of schools. In our city of Sheffield no school has opted out, and none has in Leeds or Wakefield. The idea has been spread that lots of schools are opting out. Only 40 throughout the country out of the thousands of schools have opted out. Yet the Secretary of State says that it is popular. We can formulate our own conclusons based on—
No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman must excuse me. I want to make a few points.
The assisted places scheme has been mentioned. A great deal of money has been spent on it. The Government's expenditure plans show that when the assisted places scheme started in 1984–85 £22 million was provided for the scheme. In 1985–86 a total of £30 million was provided. In 1986–87 it was £38 million. In 1987–88 it was £46 million. The next year it was £51 million. The year after it was £59 million. That comes to £246 million of our money spent in private education that was taken away from the education of our children. In the next three years another £192 million is to be spent—£62 million, £60 million and £70 million. Added to the £246 million, that comes to £438 million.
The city technology colleges scheme began with £1 million. Then the figure increased to £14 million and for this year it is £37 million. It is planned to increase it to £45 million, then £50 million and then drop to £40 million. That comes to £187 million, making a grand total, with the £438 million, of £625 million spent on CTCs and the assisted places scheme. That money was taken away from our children and put into private education. Schools near the CTCs suffer. The CTCs benefit from resources which should go to our schools.
The Secretary of State talked about local management. We have had letters from schools all over our city of Sheffield saying that they will have to sack teachers. The Secretary of State knows that as well as I do. He gave figures to show how few teachers have gone. He knows as well as I do, as an experienced teacher, that he should count how many teachers have gone at the end of this term when they are not hired for next term.
Many small schools have budgets which are £13,000 lower than last year. That is true of all primary schools. They will all have to sack teachers. Morale is lower than ever because teachers do not know who will be sacked. I have spoken to many of them. They are worried and miserable about whether they will be sacked, because they have already been told that somebody will be sacked. That is happening throughout the kingdom. The Secretary of State knows as well as I do that that is superimposed on the shortage of teachers which is implicit in the Select Committee's report. Those are the facts and they should be borne in mind.
Other features of the crisis in our schools are crumbling school buildings and endless bureaucracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn mentioned some of the documents that make up that bureaucracy which are sent round to teachers. Teachers have told us and the Conservative party that merely to carry those documents home at night and take them back to the classroom is a new chore. They have to read all those documents. Under the heading "Teachers" the chief inspector's report says:
If actually carrying out assessments, recording and reporting outcomes and accounting for what has been done do turn out to be overly prescriptive and inquisitiorial, not only will the quality of teaching and learning be adversely affected but the competence, professionalism and creativity of the teaching force may be undermined. Ultimately, the effective implementation of the Education Reform Act will depend upon the work of teachers who are trusted to use their pedagogical skills and experience in the interests of their pupils and the nation, with a minimum of external checks and balances, but who are properly accountable for what they do. Too much prescription and too detailed an external scrutiny of the work of teachers will lead to impossible workloads; bureaucratic inflexibility, and a de-skilled teaching force.
Increased bureaucracy and the fear of being sacked are the fundamental reasons for low morale among teachers and in schools.
We hear constant attacks on local education authorities. The LEAs are elected authorities which have existed for many years. They understand the problems of great cities. They are talked about as if they were villains of the piece by people who do not even send their children to LEA schools.
Not just now.
That criticism is hard on people who, with little or no pay and often voluntarily, devoted their lives to the education of our children for all these years. LEAs were not set up solely by the Labour party. They were supported by Tories of the past and Liberals of the past.
I am not giving way. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, other people wish to speak and I want to put these points over.
The Government have introduced testing at seven and then more testing at later stages. There is a lack of funds for schools. They attack LEAs. The Government attempt to persuade schools to opt out by giving them inducements. All those factors have caused teachers' morale to fall to its lowest ebb. It is not for nothing that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said that teachers are not mentioned in the Government's amendment to our motion. Their amendment is glorious and lyrical. As I said, it could be set to music. It has nothing to do with reality in our schools. It was thought up to fox people into believing that the Conservative party is doing something good for our children.
Our people from Sheffield insist on coming down to London and meeting the five Labour Members and the one Tory Member who represent Sheffield constituencies in a room in the House and the Minister is invited to attend. At first, we planned to meet just one or two people, but then demands came from all over Sheffield. As the Minister probably knows, the local newspaper, the Star, which is a very powerful newspaper in South Yorkshire, is helping us because those running it believe that there is a crisis in our schools. That is happening all over Britain. If the Minister does not know it, in heaven's name why is he the Minister? Everyone else knows it. If he can talk that crisis out of existence he had better get on with it.
Practically all primary schools in Sheffield will be losing teachers. Parents are demanding to lobby the Minister and I am inviting him to meet them on 11 July to discuss some of those problems.
Bureaucracy, form filling, testing and endless reports are hindering the education of our children. In the primary schools there is practically no non-contact time. Teachers have no time away from the children. They have meetings before school, after school and at lunchtime. They spend their time trying to take lessons and share out classes when teachers are away because they are so tired. Now, supply teachers are being used to fill permanent vacancies. The Government's answer is to scour Europe and other countries for teachers when we have about 100,000 teachers who are willing to return to teaching if they get a decent wage, negotiating rights, resources and schools that are not crumbling. More teachers are needed now. We need more money and more resources urgently.
The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), who has a fixed smile on his face, can go on smiling. There is a crisis and all the laughter and smiling will not stop it. Teachers need to be treated as professional people; wages and conditions must be improved, and crumbling schools must be repaired. The Conservative party should address those problems to achieve what we want for our children. Failure to do that will develop the present crisis into a catastrophe by the autumn term if something is not done. Never mind the Minister's lyrical concepts; the Government's failure to treat state education as an immediate priority will alienate more teachers and parents. The Government's amendment pretends that there is no crisis. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.
During our brief education debates, I sometimes wonder what those who spend their lives working in education, the parents of the children in our schools and the teachers who devote their efforts and show great commitment to our children will think when they read our debates. So much of what we hear is a sterile and weary repetition of party points which have little or nothing to do with the real problems which are recognised by many hon. Members. Those problems must be addressed seriously, responsibly and with planning and forethought.
Everyone who knows anything about education knows that the leads and lags in the system are enormous, and long-term improvements have to be initiated some years beforehand. Equally, when standards have fallen and problems have arisen in the system, the roots of those problems can be found in decisions that were taken many years ago. Those who want to address the problems would do far better to learn from the lessons that history has taught us and to try to see where we went wrong so that we can avoid making the same mistakes in future. Personal attacks about where people send their children to school have nothing to do with the debate. More than 90 per cent. of our children are and will continue to be educated in the state sector and we must all strive to ensure that the state sector is made as good as possible.
I bitterly resent the sweeping statements about Conservative Members and their attitudes not only to their own children and generally. I am probably one of the few Members of Parliament who can claim day-to-day responsibility in a large educational unit. I have been chairman of the governors of one of the largest primary schools in the country for 16 years. It has been a pilot school for local management of schools: we have a large staff and large numbers of pupils. The school is in an area of social change and we have experienced many of the problems that are inherent in the education system. I am familiar with them and deal with them most weeks of the school year. This Friday, I shall be there looking at staff appointments, so I can claim some knowledge of the system and direct week-to-week contact with teachers.
I am sorry, but I must get on, as many other hon. Members wish to speak.
One of the essential ingredients in our attitude toward educational reform must be common sense. So much of what we do in education concerns common sense. It does not involve party dogma, systems or listening to conflicting advice from expert after expert, by which politicians of all parties have been seduced on far too many occasions. All too often the teachers in the classroom can teach us what we need to do to provide the best education for our children.
We hear a great deal about the problems created in LMS. Too much is owed to the vagaries of local authorities and what they are doing apart from their education policies which affect their overall expenditure.
We should try to address the future while learning from the past and we should recognise certain essential facts. The Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, to which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) referred, recently produced a report. No one who served on the Select Committee would say or would expect me to say, as the Committee Chairman, that there are no problems in our schools. The hon. Gentleman mentioned non-contact time in primary schools. Wearing my school governor's hat, I can talk about those problems from personal experience. But that does not mean that the reforms should be written off or that the changes that we are trying to bring about will not result in an improvement.
However, I would stress one matter to my right hon. Friend the Minister. Those reforms will be delivered only by ensuring that there are enough teachers to deliver them. We must recognise that there are not sufficient teachers in certain areas. I recognise that coverage is patchy and that there are subject shortages, but there is enough evidence to suggest that to make these essential, widely welcomed reforms work we must will the resources. To deny them is to deny the education system and our children the opportunities of building on the recognition that, for too many decades, the education drift has been allowed to go unchecked.
I said that much of what is said in these debates is sterile and pointless. There is agreement among people who care about education, about children and about the delivery of education that a well-qualified, well-remunerated and properly motivated teaching force is the way forward. If we can achieve that and stop the endless bickering about who was responsible for this, that or the other, we can make some progress. If people outside can see the House responding to genuine concerns, as it can and should, we will do education a great service indeed.
The debate is about the crisis in our schools. I believe that there is a crisis and that, above all, it is a crisis of morale among many teachers, if not all, because of their difficulties in implementing Government reforms which, whether they agree with them or not, they believe have been introduced at a pace beyond their ability to cope. Yet, at the same time, they must ensure that children receive the correct level of education and care.
I am conducting a tour of schools in Cornwall, and visited three different schools only last Friday. It confirms that professionals working in the service—parents, pupils and councillors—are aware of the crisis but are astounded that the Government appear to believe that the solution is more bureaucracy, more gimmicky initiatives and more central control, whereas, in truth, more investment is desperately needed.
That shows the difference of opinion between those who are directly involved and the Government. I do not want to get into a debate about whether or by how much the Government have increased investment, but I stress that the more teachers I talk to, the more anecdotes I can give the Secretary of State and hon. Members of the need for still more investment to meet the objectives laid down by the Government.
It is extraordinary, given that the principle of the national curriculum has such widespread support, that the Government have managed to create a curriculum that has received such widespread criticism.
There is much support for the principle of a national curriculum, and my party was the first to make a manifesto commitment to it. But the structure that the Government have fronted—I say "fronted" because I am not sure that it is entirely the Minister's fault that it has got out of control; it may have more to do with how the National Curriculum Council works—is far too extended and extensive and teachers are struggling to control it because it is far too prescriptive. We favour a national curriculum that offers a framework of educational aims and objectives, not one that lays down every dot and comma of what each teacher should be doing and ignores the principle that teachers should be trained to present skills in an individual way and that classrooms should not be treated as factories, where everybody must do everything the same way in a repetitive system.
The opportunities for local variation and flexibility, which should be central to the national curriculum, have been squeezed out by the Government. The recent survey on reading skills has caused much concern. Whatever the background and the reasons for the fall-off in reading skills—I accept that the Secretary of State will want to know much more about it—the report makes it clear that it may have been caused by particular systems and styles of teaching. If the Government get it wrong, squeezing everybody into the same straitjacket may lead to squeezing them into the same faults. My concern is that the national curriculum ignores the principle of diversity and choice as protection against everybody getting it wrong, even at the risk that some teachers may get it wrong some of the time.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that teachers should be allowed individuality in their teaching methods and approaches, but does he accept that it is not unreasonable to set common aims for teachers and children under the curriculum?
I agree. The problem is how much the aim is common and how it is defined. The curriculum and the testing system under it is so detailed that it does not allow teachers enough flexibility. They cannot afford the flexibility and time necessary to make it work.
The reports of teachers I speak to—I speak to many—are precisely in those terms. That is the major criticism they make, whatever their original opinion of the national curriculum. They say that the learning process is being hindered by the detail and testing process in the national curriculum and that the normal good practice of teacher-parent dialogue gives parents more information about how their child is doing than do the raw results of testing.
The Government claim that testing will lead to higher standards, but I fear that it may lead to lower standards. The British Dyslexia Association has advanced that argument on behalf of those about whom it is particularly concerned.
Although it is good that testing of seven-year-olds has been restricted to only the core subjects, the bureaucracy of administering the tests means that there is a risk of insufficient attention being given to the foundation subjects. There is a danger that teachers will be forced to teach for tests, which will not stretch the most able but will brand many as failures at an early age. The regimentation of the standard assessment tasks diminishes the role of teachers and denies their professional judgment and diagnostic skills. The testing arrangements do little to determine the needs and ability of individual pupils, because administering them for a class of 30 childern is highly unlikely to leave time to use them for diagnostic purposes to help children overcome individual problems.
The problem of stress among teachers cannot be ignored. Even if all the other factors that I have mentioned can be put right and teachers become used to the curriculum, the stress and the difficulties that teachers are under could gravely damage the pupils now experiencing the implementation of the process, precisely and simply because it is being pushed through so quickly.
I and other Liberal Democrats believe that national testing before GCSE is inappropriate and that a more developed record of pupil achievement, involving not only the teaching staff but pupils and parents, would have been a better way forward. Ministers do not accept that position, but there is room for them to slow the pace of change in the classroom to allow the teachers to have a real chance of making testing effective for present and future pupils.
The whole problem has been exacerbated by the morale of teachers, who are suffering from the burdens imposed on them. A major investment is needed not only in cash, but in time and care for those teachers and their professionalism to combat the growing problem of teacher morale. The falling morale among teachers especially saddens me, yet the Government seem determined to ignore the difficulties that teachers are facing and to heap more and more work on to them.
One head teacher in my constituency wrote:
The workload is becoming almost insurmountable for all of us—we will work for the sake of our pupils, but these excessive demands, lack of time and preparation to complete everything within government issued deadlines will result in the continued erosion of the teaching profession, and you will find that existing expertise, dedication and professionalism will recede.
Another head teacher said:
I have a good many years left to give to education but my enthusiasm for teaching cannot go on indefinitely unless the Government provide significant additional resources to enable us to implement the National Curriculum in a professional manner.
We recently debated in the House the Government's decision not to implement fully the award recommended by the teachers' pay review body. I said then that I had spoken to head teachers and other teachers who were leaving the profession in Cornwall. Cornwall is not an area in which it is especially difficult or unrewarding to teach; on the contrary, we have some of the best education in the country. I went home after that debate and on the Friday I visited another school. Blow me down, once again the head teacher said, confidentially, that he was giving up and taking early retirement because of the burdens that he faced. There is a real problem; it is not just make-believe. All of us who speak to teachers and head teachers find the same problem.
Another issue which is less important, but which should not be ignored, is pay. Teachers have such commitment to their pupils that they are willing to work for lower salaries than they could obtain elsewhere. None the less, the way in which the comparable level of their salaries has been eroded is a direct sign to them that they are undervalued. In its report on teacher supply, the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts said:
The government should implement the IAC's recommendations in full without delay.
The Government are not doing that. The failure, year after year, to give teachers a fair deal over pay will do nothing to solve the morale problem or the supply crisis. The Government have a duty to establish a political climate in which the professional status and authority of teachers are held in high regard. The Government have failed even to try to do that. They have a duty to restore professionalism to the job.
The Government should look again at the proposals from many quarters for the establishment of a general teaching council. That would be the clearest sign we could give that we see teachers as professionals in the community. I see that the hon. Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) is in his place and I see that he agrees with that point. There is wide agreement among all parties in the House and outside that that is the way to go forward.
Both the hon. Member for Cornwall, South-East and I have had Adjournment debates on the crisis of the quality of Cornish school buildings in which teachers have I o teach. That is on the record so the hon. Gentleman need not look too bashful. We know that in Cornwall we need to spend £100 million to bring the schools up to the level that the Government set in 1981 for schools to achieve by 1991. However, the county has been allowed to spend only £6.522 million for 1990–91. It is simply impossible to reach the minimum standards that the Government say should be achieved. Will Ministers cut the standards? Will they review the standards that they believe are necessary for education, or will they accept the fact that for the indefinite future teachers will teach in surroundings that are inadequate by the Government's own standards? On the current levels of spending, we cannot meet those minimum standards. Ministers have repeatedly refused to put in the extra money necessary to meet the shortfall. I do not deny that some money is going in, but in Cornwall we can now offer only lower standards for the future.
Time after time, the Government have been warned that the crisis in our schools is weekly becoming more acute. Rather than recognise the problems and listen to teachers, the Government are obsessed with gimmicky initiatives such as the assisted places scheme and the city technology colleges, which fail to tackle the real needs. They have also heaped further burdens on to an already stressed and devalued teaching profession by the bureaucracy of an over-prescriptive and underfunded national curriculum. All the evidence and experience of the past year shows that the Government reforms are causing chaos. It is imperative that Ministers think again, slow the pace of change and give the education service the priority and funding it deserves.
The miracle is that, despite the pressures and lack of resources from which they have suffered, teachers are still doing a superb job in our schools. On that at least I agree with the Minister. Their commitment to their pupils and their schools is unwavering. If the Government showed only half that commitment to state education, a debate on the crisis in our schools would not be necessary.
Between now and the general election—and afterwards—my party will make it clear that if improving our education system means spending more money and raising taxes, we shall not flinch from doing so because we believe that investment in our young people is a priority for which raising taxes should not be dodged if it is necessary. I feel sympathy for Labour Front-Bench Members who are not allowed to say that in this debate but who believe that as well. I hope that they can persuade their leadership to allow them to say it too as they approach the general election.
The real crisis in our schools would be the one that would occur if Labour Members ever won power. The House was not surprised to learn of the negative attitude displayed by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) because the whole of the Labour party's education policy is negative. Labour Members would abolish the grammar schools, the grant-maintained schools, the city technology colleges, the assisted places scheme and, as we have heard this afternoon, even the independent sector. The Labour party has become the party of abolition; Labour Members would even like to abolish choice itself. They want the uniform greyness of mediocrity.
The Government remain committed to improving the quality and standards of the state education system in which the majority of our children are educated. I need hardly remind the House that in 1976 the then Prime Minister, Lord Callaghan, called for "a great debate" and that is what he got. There was no action, but plenty of talk. The present Government have acknowledged that there are problems and have introduced, alongside other measures, the Education Reform Act 1988. The thrust of the Act was to restore choice to parents.
We believe that parents are the best guardians of education. Most parents know best what is right for their children, so parents should be trusted and involved in the education process. The Labour party seeks to thrust the nation's children into one type of school—
The hon. Member for Blackburn mentioned ambition. Indeed, the Labour party is ambitious; it is ambitious for itself. Labour Members want office and they are prepared to promise anything and to jettison anything if it means that there is a chance of their gaining power. The Labour party has also discovered standards and Labour Members talk about introducing an education standards council. I must remind them that that idea has been dismissed by the teachers' unions as a gimmick. Labour Members talk about a parent-school contract, but they forget that the present Government have already enshrined in law rights for parents. The Labour party is talking about introducing five-subject A-levels, which would undermine one of the accepted and established beacons of academic excellence.
Conservative Members stand for choice, and more parental choice will ensure an improvement in standards. Parents naturally want the best for their children. In the independent sector, for example, as we have been repeatedly reminded by the hon. Member for Blackburn, parents are prepared to pay for choice, and to pay heavily. In the state sector, parents are willing to invest their time, their interest and their commitment.
I believe that parents will be the great engine of educational change. The hon. Member for Blackburn criticised the introduction of grant-maintained schools. I believe firmly in grant-maintained schools and I am anxious that Ministers should drop the artificial 300-pupil threshold for entry. Let us see more schools, more smaller schools and more village schools applying for grant-maintained status.
We should remember, however, that such reforms take time and that it is now only two years since the passing of the Education Reform Act 1988. Only now are we beginning to see the introduction of local management of schools and only now are the first grant-maintained schools beginning to emerge.
No. The hon. Lady must forgive me, but many of my hon. Friends wish to speak.
The national curriculum is bound to encounter some teething troubles before it is accepted. But let no hon. Member doubt our commitment to improving the quality and standard of state education.
On 7 June we debated teachers' pay and conditions. There is no doubt in my mind that the teaching profession is no longer as attractive as it was 20 or 30 years ago. In those days, teachers were on a par with doctors and architects. That is no longer the case and much of the responsibility for that loss of esteem must lie on teachers' own shoulders. As I have said before, if they wish to be treated as professionals, they must act as professionals, and professionals do not march, demonstrate, strike or obstruct.
Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I believe that the vast majority of teachers in Britain are committed both to their profession and to the children in their charge. It is unfortunate that the efforts of the majority are undermined by the efforts of a militant left-wing minority. Anyone who doubts that has only to remember the appalling scenes that recently occurred at the teachers' conferences, where the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers was howled down by a militant left-wing mob of his own members. Teachers are to education what the house is to home. One cannot have one without the other, and I should like teachers to occupy once more their old and coveted position in society.
There are problems in our schools, and some of them have their roots in increasing indiscipline. Indiscipline and an attendant lack of respect are increasingly to be found both in the home and at school. But it would be wrong for society to place all the responsibility for school problems on teachers' shoulders. Parents must understand that they have duties and responsibilities as well as rights and that they cannot abdicate them as soon as their children go through the school gates.
Education is a partnership between parents and teachers. I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) in his place, because he has made just that point in many of our education debates. Too often the partnership between parent and teacher deteriorates into a casual association that takes place once a year. We need to restore respect for teachers, and respect must be earned. Boys of 13, 14 and 15 can be difficult and unpleasant—well able to turn a teacher's life into something of a nightmare. In such cases, firm discipline is required, and I fear that such discipline is missing from many of our state schools.
Teaching is best achieved in a firm, disciplined framework, both at home and at school. When that framework is absent, chaos begins. We need to go back to some of the basics, both in teacher training and in the classroom. Over the past 25 years, teaching has suffered from too many experiments and too many theories—
I am delighted to have my hon. Friend's support.
Too many proven methods have been scrapped, on the scantiest of evidence, for the new fashion of the day, and children's education has suffered as a result. But my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not a fashionable man and he is not a theorist. What we need now is not more innovation but a period of consolidation. Under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that is what we will get—to the benefit of our children and to the benefit of the nation's schools.
It has been a revelation and a source of amazement to me to hear hon. Members' deliberations on the state of our education system. One has only to visit half a dozen state schools to realise that everywhere disillusioned teachers are struggling to provide a good education for the children in their charge and finding that their task is made more difficult by the Government's action.
In the past decade, we have suffered a cut in investment in the education service and in the future of our children. We spend less of our GDP on education today than we did under the Labour Government, and it is the under-resourcing of the service that is causing so many of the difficulties.
What state can our education service be in when we read of parents being asked by school governors to lob in £50 apiece for teachers to be employed? Do we realise the depth of the crisis when we read that parents in Harpenden, that citadel of Conservatism, have set up Harpenden Parents Against Education Cuts because of the way in which local management of schools is working?
My hon. Friend referred to local management of schools. He may or may not be aware that, in the past day or two, chairmen of boards of governors have received letters from the National Association of Governors and Managers pointing out to them that, because of LMS, they now face a great risk of being sued for negligence, errors and omissions, and inviting them to take out insurance against such claims. Does my hon. Friend agree that that will create a crisis of confidence among school governors equal to that among teachers, and that it is greatly to be deplored?
I had heard about that, although I had not seen the document until my hon. Friend produced it. It appears in any case to be another unthought of consequence of the Government's reforms that will cause great aggravation in the education system. They are already causing aggravation for teachers and that is why we have a growing crisis of teacher supply in the United Kingdom. The problem is particularly severe in inner London; indeed, in boroughs such as Southwark and Tower Hamlets it is a scandal. It is beyond belief that any Education Minister can stand at the Dispatch Box and not suggest positive solutions to the problem. It is a national scandal. The problem is steadily spreading its tentacles to other parts of the country.
At one time, we were principally concerned about maths and science, but we now find that there is a shortage of skilled and qualified teachers of modern languages, design and technology, and music—half the subjects in the national curriculum. Is it any wonder that there is a crisis in our schools today? On DES teacher training targets, we are 27 per cent. short in maths, 23 per cent. short in physics, 16 per cent. short in modern languages, 42 per cent. short in chemistry, and 22 per cent. short in technology. There has been a failure to meet DES targets, and the problem will get much worse before it gets better. That failure can be seen in Wales, fabled for its teachers, where teachers are provided as if they were on a conveyor belt. In Wales, local authorities are experiencing difficulties in recruiting secondary school teachers, qualified Welsh language teachers, and science, maths and modern language teachers. They are lucky if one or two people apply for such posts. The difficulties are to be found everywhere. Morale is low and the profession overburdened.
The praise that the Government heap on teachers is rather like the praise that the generals heaped on the soldiers in the trenches in the first world war. It came from people who were strategically inept, had a poorly paid soldiery and were poorly equipped. That is why, in the past six months, the so-called "escape committee" has increased the number of people wanting to join from the profession from 700 to 3,000. Teachers are disillusioned because they are being asked to do too much too soon and too quickly, when their pay is too little too late and too slow—staged payments of a cash-limited pay award. There is worse to come.
In my county, teachers will lose their jobs as about half of our primary and secondary schools have had savage reductions in their budgets because of formula funding and the LMS scheme, which the Welsh Office forced on my local authority of Mid Glamorgan. That has adversely affected our schools.
LMS is not about giving parents and governors the chance to run their own show; it is about exposing schools to formula funding, which means that they will be closed. There is no doubt that small schools will close in the near future.
On nursery education, poll tax-capped authorities will consider areas in which, at the moment, provision is non-statutory, so there will be cuts. It is salutary to think that poll tax-capped Labour authorities are among the best providers of nursery education. It is no coincidence that Tory education authorities are the worst providers of nursery education.
Throughout the education system, teachers are struggling to provide a high-quality service, when virtually everything that the Government are doing is counter-productive. We have a legacy of crumbling schools, crumbling teacher morale, teacher shortages, teachers not being taught, classes without teachers in front of them, and change for the sake of change. Parent governors are thoroughly disillusioned and say that their meetings are about finance and not about education. They can foresee the day when they will ask not who is the best but who is the cheapest when they appoint teachers. That is our education service—the cheapest.
I shall make just two general observations about the current position of education, based on my impressions in visiting schools and talking to parents, teachers and governors, and certainly not from the point of view of an expert. I shall also raise one specific requirement for Cornwall.
First, as has been mentioned, there is no denying that our primary and secondary schools have been subjected to a period of significant change, not least because of the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988. I have no objection to the majority of the measures. Indeed, I warmly welcomed the introduction of the concept of a national curriculum and local school management. Of course there will be teething problems and certain genuine difficulties, and they will all require careful consideration. It cannot be denied, however, that the changes have meant extra responsibilities and an increased work load for teachers, parents and children. That fact must be recognised by all of us who are anxious in the widest sense for the future education of our children.
The scheduled time scale for the changes has always worried me. The rate of change demanded of teachers and children alike has been onerous. Furthermore, as a direct consequence of the time scale requirement, the necessary advice, information and procedures to be adopted have not always been available to schools. That has undoubtedly caused additional anxieties. That is why we now need a period of consolidation—indeed, tranquility—in our schools. As legislators, we owe that at least to our teachers and children.
Fortunately, there is evidence that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State understands that requirement. His remarks about assessment today confirm that impression. Consolidation does not mean weakening or losing the basic objectives that we seek, or even the momentum that is essential to implement the changes. Common sense dictates that consolidation is required to maximise the effects of the changes.
My second general point is about teachers. I mean no offence, but we all know that a small minority of teachers, or perhaps their representatives, are a nuisance to the teaching profession. They do untold damage to the teachers' cause. I ask Ministers and colleagues to recognise that the great majority of teachers are hard-working, committed and anxious to provide the best possible standard of education for our children.
I hope that the independent negotiating machinery to determine teachers' salaries and conditions, whether it takes the form of a teachers' council or some other form, will soon be restored. Certainly we have been given some firm promises on that by my right hon. Friend. It is essential that the new framework provides the necessary ability to restore the morale of teachers. It is essential for public confidence that we are perceived as a Government who recognise the crucial work undertaken by teachers, as demonstrated by the establishment of the new framework.
Two years ago, almost to the day, I had an Adjournment debate on the county of Cornwall's school building requirements. Since local education authorities will soon be finalising their applications to the Department for next year's financial allocations, I want to use this opportunity to emphasise the need for Cornwall to receive a meaningful capital allocation to sustain a rolling programme of new school building, accommodate the rising number of pupils and bring about the replacement and improvement of existing school stock.
I remind the Minister that there are 33 secondary schools in Cornwall and nine, including Liskeard in my constituency, still occupy split sites. In 1973 I took a delegation to see the Secretary of State for Education, now my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Liskeard school. We are still waiting for results.
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that, but I remind Opposition Members about the delegations that one took to see their education Ministers: their promises were not delivered either.
I want my right hon. Friend to ensure that sufficient allocation is made so that we can make the maximum use of scarce financial and human resources. The problems caused by split-site schools do not allow for the maximum use of those resources.
In 1992 Cornwall's primary school population will exceed 40,000 pupils—the highest figure ever achieved. Undoubtedly that will exacerbate an already difficult situation. Our chief education officer estimates that there are some 50 projects that would merit urgent priority if sufficient funds were available. He also estimates that 50 per cent. of those projects can be classified as major—costing more than £200,000.
Our county has always been a modest-spending area and it does its best to top up the Department's allocation. This year the county will spend £14 million thanks to the use of capital receipts and reserves, compared with the Department's allocation of £6.5 million. Last year the corresponding figures were £8.9 million and £6.1 million. Each year the council's education committee faces an almost impossible task—some might say that it is invidious—in determining priorities. I have not mentioned the new building regulation requirements that could add a further £70 million to our financial needs.
Apart from the problem of split-site schools, does my hon. Friend agree that the tremendous legacy of old schools from the Victorian era, particularly in our villages, means that it is necessary to get on top of that problem once and for all?
My final remark answers the point that my hon. Friend has rightly raised. The current building requirements in Cornwall are the price we have had to pay for the relative lack of activity in that regard in the 1950s and 1960s. That does not absolve us, however, from our responsibilities to our children in the 1990s.
The debate coincides with an article in The House Magazine by the Secretary of State for Education. The Secretary of State begins his contribution by describing his aims as follows:
To encourage all children to achieve the highest level of their different abilities and discover and develop their own particular talents, thereby acquiring the wide range of skills and abilities they will need to deal with the many and diverse challenges which lie ahead.
If that was true, there would be no difference between us and we would happily agree on the definition of what education should provide for our children. However, there is no consensus between us, for three reasons.
The first is on philosophical grounds. The Government aim to create an education system that is designed not to develop the potential of each child, but to fit this generation of children to the short-term needs of their friends in business. That is what LMS and city technology colleges are all about: they are aimed at creating a generation of managers and technicians to run industry and commerce in the future. In recent years the privatisation and the orientation of education towards the needs of business have been the Government's themes.
Secondly, if what the right hon. Gentleman said was true, we would have a well-paid and well-motivated teaching profession, enjoying high morale. We have exactly the opposite. That profession is suffering a haemorrhage. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has shown me an article which says that six out of seven primary school teachers in one school in Lambeth intend to leave that school in the next three weeks. Come September there will be one teacher for those children.
Thirdly, there is no consensus between us because of the way in which the Government have dealt with the needs of local authorities to repair, renovate and even maintain the fabric of the schools in which our children are taught. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), who comes from my part of the country, spoke about standards, grey uniformity and choice.
One part of the national curriculum relates to the teaching of computers—it is covered by the information technology section. I have a photograph from my local paper, the Coventry Evening Telegraph, that shows children of the Chace primary school in Willenhall, in my constituency, being taught computing in toilets. After 11 years of a Tory Government children are being taught in the loo. How can those children be assessed on their ability to absorb in those conditions? The photograph could not show the open drains, nor pass on the smell that will come with hot weather. How are teachers supposed to inculcate in those children the sense of wonder and awareness of the world when they are sitting in a toilet learning about computers? "Our Crumbling Schools" is not just the title of an article in that local newspaper or a campaign of the Labour party, but reality for children in the city of Coventry and elsewhere.
In the past three years my local authority has bid for £11.8 million, £16 million and £12.4 million from the Department of Education and Science for essential repairs. If those repairs are not carried out, it will severely impair the ability of teachers to deliver good quality education and, as a result, morale will go down.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has already mentioned a school in Nuneaton, of which the Minister will be aware, where children have caught hepatitis A because there is no soap in the toilets and the paper towels have been cut in half. The north Warwickshire district medical officer said of the outbreak:
Financial cuts in education, where children are only allowed half a paper towel, no adequate soap and no, or poor quality, toilet paper made the problem more difficult.
The savage cuts in, and under-provision for, education are now to be exacerbated by poll tax capping. More than £200 million has been cut from the education spending allocation in the 20 authorities affected. In the past three years Coventry has bid for about £40 million—we were allocated £10.6 million. Last year we were awarded;£1.96 million—15 per cent. of what the council bid for. It was the lowest allocation to any council in the west midlands; and of the 109 education authorities in England and Wales, only 14 are worse off than Coventry.
I was talking to parents in my constituency, and to governors of Chace primary school at Willenhall, over the weekend. The toilets, where computer studies classes take place, are out of date and smelly. When it rains, teachers have to put up with puddles inches from the computer terminals. The rain also comes into the school on to the carpeted areas where children are supposed to sit and listen to stories. The female staff toilet is now a store room for computer and games equipment and the caretaker's room is a storage area for science equipment. The library, where remedial teaching takes place for those with difficulty in learning how to read, consists of half the main hall. There is a curtain down the middle of the hall and physical education classes are conducted in the other half.
It is hard to imagine how somebody like the elderly lady I spoke to the other night, who is a volunteer, going into that school to help with remedial teaching, manages to teach in half a school hall, separated from the PE class by a curtain.
Her Majesty's inspectorate is worried about Chace primary school, which is one of numerous crumbling schools in our cities. It is not one of the schools visited by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, when he came to Coventry. He and other hon. Members from my area know that we are not talking about a left-wing authority or a city council that has ever disobeyed a single Government instruction during the past 11 years. It has never been anywhere near being rate or poll tax capped.
The local paper has provided the Under-Secretary of State with a dossier of what is going on in Coventry. What is he going to do about it? How do the Government decide on allocations that leave schools in Coventry lacking such facilities? Why is Coventry the area with the lowest budget in the west midlands and the 15th lowest in the country? How are such positions reviewed? How can we get the money this year so that bairns of five, six or seven years old in such schools in Coventry may have decent facilities in which to be taught this year? That is what the debate is all about for me. Those are the most important years in a bairn's life. It is when the mind blossoms and awareness develops.
I am proud and lucky. I have four healthy bairns growing up and being educated in Coventry. However, in Coventry there are parents with children at schools in which, according to the local newspaper survey, the stench from decaying toilets causes regular outbreaks of sore throats and stomach bugs. How are kids supposed to learn in such conditions? It does not happen in Harrow, Eton, Marlborough or Charterhouse and the private schools that I have visited as a speaker, where the walls are panelled in oak, as are the walls of this place.
The average spent on children's education in this country is just over £1,900 per child. In Avon, a poll-tax-capped authority, the figure is £1,870. The Government spend money on their assisted places schemes to send kids to the private school of Charterhouse. They spend £7,200 per child, four times what they say is too much to spend on our kids in state education. That is why an HMI report this January stated that one third of secondary schools, in which 1 million children are taught, have accommodation so unsuitable that the quality of the children's education was being "adversely affected".
This year, Coventry asked for £12.2 million. We were allowed—note the word "allowed" to spend £1.96 million. But the Government are spending £7.65 million—four times that amount—on one city technology college in Nottingham. It is not that the Government do not have the money; they are hypocritical. We have a Government education team that does not care about the 95 per cent. of children in the state education sector. Why not?
The reason the education team do not care is that the Government are at present engaged in precisely the same pre-privatisation rundown that has occurred in every nationalised industry prior to privatisation during the 11 years of this Government. It is a simple exercise designed to make the product—the Government call it a product—the education system, unworkable and unpopular among parents so that they cry out for privatised control. That is not yet working. The Secretary of State has offered parents of this country an opportunity to opt out, but out of 4,257 secondary schools in England and Wales, only 40—less than 1 per cent.—have asked to go private, and not a single primary school has done so.
During their period in office, the Government have cut the proportion of public spending on education and science, and increased money for private schools. They have closed 1,575 primary schools and 312 secondary schools, and opened a handful of elite city technology colleges. They have cut back expenditure on text books, and put up the price of school meals; and, according to The Times Educational Supplement last Friday, there has been a 3.2 per cent. fall in the average reading ability of seven-year-olds. Millions of ordinary families cannot get nursery education or care, which would not only be good for the children, but would open opportunities for parents, particularly women. Only one quarter of the three and four-year-olds in this country receive any form of nursery education.
Education should be about a lifetime for people to go in and out of education as they need it. But it is not. There are few nurseries for our bairns to attend, and colleges, polytechnics and universities, where grants have been cut by one quarter, then frozen and—if the regulations are passed—from this summer, even benefits will be taken away from students. When dealing with our children's education, the Government cut funds, but when dealing with their children's education, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough said, they are prepared to spend an extra £0.5 billion on assisted places.
Socialists believe that education is a right. The Government believe in privilege. As soon as we get rid of the Government and have a decent, socialist Government, we can once again make education the right that it should be.
This debate is about the crisis in our education system. The view that there is a crisis is held by parents and teachers throughout the country. A striking factor in the debate was the utter complacency of the Secretary of State. The way in which he described our education system and the activities taking place in our schools would not be instantly recognisable by teachers and parents. That shows the great divide, the gulf, that exists between the Government and the teachers and parents of this country.
I suspect that there is one point on which we can agree with the Secretary of State, but he comes to that position with a record behind him. He has, to use the criminal jargon, some form. Nevertheless, we welcome the fact that he now holds a slightly different view. He told us that teachers were a key resource and we had failed to sing their praises. He should go back and read all the education debates during the past few years because he would then realise that Labour spokesmen, on each and every occasion, have sung the praises of teachers and recognised the tasks and burdens carried by them.
The Secretary of State now says that teachers are doing a good job. This is where his form is relevant because it is this Secretary of State's Government who have done so much to undermine the morale of teachers throughout the country. The Secretary of State's Government—we must remind ourselves of this, because it is an essential part of the current malaise in schools—took away from teachers the basic human right to bargain and negotiate freely with their employers. The Secretary of State's Government took every available opportunity in the House and outside to denigrate teachers' professionalism. That reached its height in the middle of the last decade and has had a remarkable impact on morale. The Secretary of State's Government have, on every possible occasion, refused to work with teachers and go with the grain of teachers' professionalism in developing the systems of both testing and the national curriculum.
The hon. Members for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) and for Truro (Mr. Taylor) said that there was a need for a general teaching council. We echo those views because we believe in teachers' professionalism, and have been saying so for some time. We welcome the Secretary of State as a partial convert, but he has a long record to get rid of before he becomes a true convert.
A key element of the debate involves resources. The picture painted by the Secretary of State was that all was well in our schools and there was no problem. When my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) asked about schools in Southwark, he had a simple response. He said that the Government did not generalise, Southwark had its own peculiar problems and so we could not argue about teacher shortages there. I wish that the Secretary of State would put that argument to the parents of those children in Southwark, who do not know whether they will have teachers in the classroom this autumn. Why does he not go down to the east end of London and visit the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), and talk to the parents of the 300 children in Tower Hamlets who still do not have a school place because of the teacher shortages?
My hon. Friend rightly referred to the national scandal that more than 300 children are now out of school who have the right to education in our school system. Is he aware that, exactly a year ago, I took a deputation to the Secretary of State's predecessor to explain to him in detail the problems and the shortages, and that nothing has happened since? Will he join me in pressing the Minister to give an immediate, serious pledge and guarantee that a target date and timetable will be set, at the end of which my constituents' children will have the right to the proper state education that is guaranteed for all children in this country?
My right hon. Friend has made a powerful intervention. Certainly I join him in asking the Secretary of State whether he is prepared to make that timetable commitment. We noticed earlier that he was not prepared to give parents a commitment about the availability of a teacher in every classroom this autumn; will he now give a commitment to the parents of Tower Hamlets, and to the 300 children who have no teachers? I shall give way if he wishes me to, but once again the House and my right hon. Friend will notice that he has no interest in these matters, and is not prepared to give any commitment.[Interruption.] I repeat that, if the Secretary of State wants to make the commitment, I shall give way—but, by pointing a finger, the Secretary of State suggests that the Minister of State will do it. We look forward to that, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will want to intervene.
The argument about resources was not addressed by the Secretary of State. We all know why he was appointed. The previous Secretary of State was full of ideas, none of which as we all know, and as the Conservative party regrets—worked effectively in practice. This Secretary of State was appointed to do the Prime Minister's bidding. While he is doing that, he himself is never bidding for education, or for resources for the education system.
Let us have a look at what the present Secretary of State has agreed to. He has agreed to standard spending assessments for education: if they had been followed by local education authorities, that would have meant a £1.4 billion cut. That is how hard the right hon. Gentleman fought for education. He said that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was wrong to compare levels of expenditure in the maintained sector and on the assisted places scheme. However, he is never prepared to argue for the children in rate-capped authorities who, halfway through the school year, will have their educational resources cut. Where has the Secretary of State been? He has simply rolled over for the Treasury and the Prime Minister.
This afternoon, the Secretary of State made a major announcement. The nub of his speech—his pot of gold—was the amount of money that he had for the system. He said that he was announcing expenditure for 1991–92 of £364 million, through the educational support grant system. I thought that he was being generous to the education system, so I went to the Library and examined the figures for this year's expenditure. They come to £357.7 million. The right hon. Gentleman has therefore announced an increase of £6.3 million—or 2 per cent.—when inflation is running at nearly 10 per cent. As always, he has announced a cut in real terms. Again, if he wishes to intervene I shall gladly give way.
This is the Secretary of State who tries to give the impression that he argues with his ministerial colleagues on behalf of education. Hon. Members who heard his opening contribution will remember that he said that he had argued for the success of TVEI and for additional resources. Where was he when the 22 authorities embarking on TVEI had their expenditure reduced by 50 per cent? Was he knocking on the door of the Department of Employment, saying that it was crucial education expenditure? We have not heard a squeak from the Secretary of State: yet again he has failed to stand up for the education system, and for what is good in it.
Against that background of a lack of resources, we must make another criticism of the Government's record. It concerns the confusion and lack of clarity in their thinking. With the complacency that was characteristic of his speech, the Secretary of State said that there were no problems with the local management of schools. Obviously, neither he nor any of his hon. Friends has been to any of the schools that my hon. Friends and I have visited, and talked to teachers, governors and parents. If they had, they would know that there are massive problems, and that schools are finding it increasingly difficult to meet their budgets. The Secretary of State knows that the Coopers and Lybrand report warned him that local management of schools could work effectively only if there were adequate resources in the system. Those resources are not available.
There is also confusion about testing and the national curriculum. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph at Easter, the Prime Minister said that she had never expected the national curriculum to work out as it had. That is typical of the Prime Minister: it is abundantly clear that she does not lead her own Government when there are any difficulties. However, she has one advantage over the Secretary of State: I suspect that he still has no idea how the national curriculum will work out in practice.
There is a problem in every school in the country. Teachers are being bombarded by material without any sense of direction and purpose from the centre. On top of that, children are to be tested at the age of seven. There seems to be a difference of opinion between Ministers on that point. The Minister of State—who may be making a valedictory speech in a few minutes—said, in an interview with the Today newspaper a few weeks ago, that testing was being piloted and that no decisions were being taken, although she did seem to favour a rigorous, detailed system. Last Friday I was delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State in Leeds. I suspect that, if the newspaper reports are correct, he is the only junior Minister in his Department who can be confident about his future. He said that testing was to be slimmed down. Whose version is the reality? Which is the Government's version? Is it the Minister of State's version, or the Under-Secretary's? Why do we not hear a word from the Secretary of State? The reality is that teachers do not know what is expected of them in the autumn of next year.
Our indictment against the Government is a powerful one. It is about resources, confusion, drift and a lack of leadership. Any country that wants to build for the future realises that education is the investment for the future: investment in education today is the guarantee of economic success tomorrow. That is recognised by the French and the Germans and by people in the developing countries of south-east Asia. It is recognised by all economically successful countries. The only people who fail to recognise the importance of education are the Government and their Education Ministers. The clear message is that we need a change of education policies and a Labour Government to safeguard the future and our children.
The substance of the debate, couched in terms of an Opposition motion that does nothing to value teachers' efforts or to encourage parents and children, should have given the Opposition an opportunity to outline some new policies. However, not one Opposition Member has offered a concrete suggestion that would lead to any change for the better. They said that the most important anouncement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on education support grants and education authority training grants was rubbish.
Without exception, Opposition Members have dwelt on their determination to put the clock back. They say with pride that history will repeat itself. They would diminish parental choice, as they did before, by the abolition of the direct grant schools which many of them were privileged to attend. They would threaten local education authority maintained grammar schools, the very schools which provided education for children whatever their background and parentage. They would undermine the reforms that have been broadly welcomed by schools and parents alike. The hopes that schools and what is taught in them would take the direction that many teachers have been looking for for years would be dashed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) was right to condemn Opposition rhetoric. He was also right to emphasise that time is necessary to repair the damage that has been done over years to the education system, and right to dash the assumption that only socialists send their children to state schools. That is a disgraceful assumption, and it is absolutely untrue. It is in the interests of all hon. Members to strive for excellence in every school.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby spoke about the local management of schools and said that local authorities themselves must be given the opportunity and urged to deliver to the schools the most that they can. The only way to ensure that our reforms work is to allow schools to govern themselves and use the resources that are available to them. He said that we must ensure a sufficiency of teachers for the system. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done that by properly addressing the problem with great urgency and giving it high priority.
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) made an interesting point on the national curriculum. I am glad to know that he is in favour of the concept of the national curriculum but sad to learn that he has not troubled to study the way in which it is being introduced to our system. There is much flexibility. Much of the national curriculum produced by the working group is on the established principles and methodology that teachers have been using for years. The curriculum draws together into a coherent programme study and syllabuses for children throughout the years that they are at school from the age of five to 16. It certainly enables teachers to use their skills and their own style of teaching. Those who seek to slow the pace of reform simply wish to prevent the children of this generation from benefiting from our reforms.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) was right to point to the uniform mediocrity of a blanket system. He was also right to draw attention to the measures that successive Conservative Governments have introduced. Parents are the key to improvement, and if they are allowed to choose what they want for their children they will choose academic standards.
I direct the attention of the Opposition to an Islington school that has recently had a change of head teacher. It is in one of the inner-London areas that we have heard about in the debate. Parents are flocking to that school to which the head teacher has introduced old-fashioned ideas of academic standards, uniform, and good behaviour. [Interruption.]
That boys' school in Holloway deserves to be seen as a model for parents who are considering what kind of school to choose for their children. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth supporting the grant maintained schools.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) rather mischievously misunderstood the principles of local management of schools. The Welsh Office does not deliver the formula for such management. The county sets the formula and delivers the money to the schools. The hon. Member for Bridgend should be sure of his facts before he makes mischievous statements to the House and to the wider world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) will be glad to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recognises the importance of allowing schools to have lighter burdens within the reforms. He accepts that in the schools and for teachers there must be a lightening of the burden. We also recognise that our teachers are professionals. They can be sure that the Government are committed to the return of their negotiating rights as and when agreements have been reached.
I have visited a number of schools in inner London. I admit that I have not been to schools in Southwark, but I have certainly visited Hackney, Camden and Tower Hamlets. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) does a great disservice to the elected members and the director of education in Tower Hamlets who have been working ceaselessly to ensure that they will have sufficient teachers.
It will not do to pretend that I am blaming my local education authority. I am not. It is doing its best, as ILEA did before it. The real trouble is that the Government have not backed the authority's efforts and given it the resources to take children off the streets and into the schools so that they can receive the education not only that they deserve but to which they have an absolute right.
The Government have recognised exactly that problem by making quite sure that authorities have a substantial capital allocation for rebuilding schools and building new ones.
No, I will not give way to listen to a catalogue of disaster. There is no truth in the Opposition's charges. A bird's eye view of what a future Labour Government would do as resources allowed shows that they would return everything to where it was 11 years ago, and that will cause nothing but damage. By contrast, during the last decade the Government have striven to meet the needs of children of all abilities. Apart from the reforms of the Education Reform Act 1988, our policies have enabled more children to stay on at school after GCSE and more people are going to university.
We are not in the least bit complacent. We shall continue to pursue policies that will free our schools and our children from the stranglehold of bureaucracy. They will allow choice for parents and freedom for professional teachers to do their job in the way that they think best. Most important, our policies guarantee that children will receive a high quality, broad and balanced education. I urge the House to support the amendment.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has already spoken. If he has a point of order, it should be addressed to the Chair and not to the Minister.
Order. I am giving the guidelines to the hon. Member. If he asks for the leave of the House, only one voice has to be raised in opposition for it to be refused. If the hon. Member is asking for the leave of the House, I must put it to the House.
|Division No. 281]||[7.10 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Caborn, Richard|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Callaghan, Jim|
|Allen, Graham||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Alton, David||Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)|
|Anderson, Donald||Campbell-Savours, D. N.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Canavan, Dennis|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Carr, Michael|
|Ashton, Joe||Cartwright, John|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)|
|Beckett, Margaret||Clay, Bob|
|Beith, A. J.||Clelland, David|
|Bell, Stuart||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Cohen, Harry|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Coleman, Donald|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Blair, Tony||Corbett, Robin|
|Blunkett, David||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Boateng, Paul||Cousins, Jim|
|Boyes, Roland||Cox, Tom|
|Bradley, Keith||Crowther, Stan|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Cryer, Bob|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Cummings, John|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Buckley, George J.||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Dalyell, Tam||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Darling, Alistair||Marek, Dr John|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Dewar, Donald||Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)|
|Dixon, Don||Martlew, Eric|
|Dobson, Frank||Maxton, John|
|Doran, Frank||Meacher, Michael|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Meale, Alan|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Michael, Alun|
|Eastham, Ken||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Fatchett, Derek||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Faulds, Andrew||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Fearn, Ronald||Morley, Elliot|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Flannery, Martin||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Flynn, Paul||Mullin, Chris|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Murphy, Paul|
|Foster, Derek||Nellist, Dave|
|Foulkes, George||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Fraser, John||O'Brien, William|
|Fyfe, Maria||O'Neill, Martin|
|Galbraith, Sam||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Galloway, George||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||Parry, Robert|
|George, Bruce||Patchett, Terry|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Prescott, John|
|Gould, Bryan||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Graham, Thomas||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Radice, Giles|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Randall, Stuart|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Redmond, Martin|
|Grocott, Bruce||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Reid, Dr John|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Richardson, Jo|
|Haynes, Frank||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Rogers, Allan|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Rooker, Jeff|
|Henderson, Doug||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Hinchliffe, David||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Salmond, Alex|
|Home Robertson, John||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Hood, Jimmy||Sheerman, Barry|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Howells, Geraint||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hoyle, Doug||Short, Clare|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Illsley, Eric||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Janner, Greville||Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Snape, Peter|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Soley, Clive|
|Kennedy, Charles||Spearing, Nigel|
|Kilfedder, James||Stott, Roger|
|Lambie, David||Strang, Gavin|
|Lamond, James||Straw, Jack|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Leighton, Ron||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Trimble, David|
|Lewis, Terry||Turner, Dennis|
|Litherland, Robert||Vaz, Keith|
|Livsey, Richard||Wallace, James|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Loyden, Eddie||Wareing, Robert N.|
|McAllion, John||Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|McCartney, Ian||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|McFall, John||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|McKelvey, William||Wilson, Brian|
|McLeish, Henry||Winnick, David|
|McNamara, Kevin||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|McWilliam, John||Worthington, Tony|
|Wray, Jimmy||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Young, David (Bolton SE)||Mr. Martyn Jones and|
|Mrs. Llin Golding.|
That this House congratulates the Government on its programme for securing further lasting improvements in standards in schools through its policies for the national curriculum, assessment and testing, increased parental choice, and greater autonomy for schools; notes increased recurrent and capital expenditure since 1979 in real terms per pupil of 40 per cent. and 13 per cent., respectively; notes widespread public support for the Government's reforms and welcomes the significant increase in staying on rates among 16 and 17-year-olds in the last two years and in the numbers going on to higher education which show the success of the Government's policies; and contrasts this inspiring programme with the failure of the Opposition to produce alternative proposals offering similar leadership for the nation's young.