In the debate yesterday we heard a great deal of nonsense from the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and other Opposition Members about the allegedly centralising motives and characteristics of the Bill. Of all the charges that could be levelled at us—precious few have any validity—the charge of centralisation is the most absurd.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his brilliant opening speech yesterday, and as several of my hon. Friends also pointed out during the debate, Labour has wilfully misunderstood and misrepresented the thrust of the Bill. Not for the first time, Labour is confusing means with ends. The means provided in this measure certainly involve the use of central power exercised with the full backing of parliamentary statute. But the ends achieved will be greater local choice and local autonomy at the level of individual parents and schools. We are confident that this framework of truly local choice will bring managerial benefits for head teachers, participation benefits for parents and other governors and—most important of all—educational benefits for the children concerned.
I am glad to be able to say that, even since yesterday, two more applications for grant-maintained status have been approved by my right hon. Friend.
The Government published the parents charter and have consistently sought to return the power in education to where it belongs—to parents, teachers and governors of schools.
Our policy, in the Bill and in other previous measures, is all about enfranchising ordinary people, not about protecting outdated trade union or bureaucratic practices. This principle was true of the Housing Act 1980, which the hon. Member for Dewsbury fiercely opposed; it is true of our policies for wider pensions and share ownership; and it is true of the Bill, which places new opportunities in the hands of parents, teachers and governors so that the people most closely involved with our schools—
I appreciate the concern of some Conservative Members who may question the absence from the Chamber of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). I understand that she is on the telephone to the Secretary of State for Wales, trying to persuade him to come here to take part in the debate.
I was explaining that we have been seeking to enfranchise ordinary people and not to protect outdated trade union or bureaucratic interests. I said that that principle was true of the Housing Act 1980, which the hon. Member for Dewsbury—who, as it has been pointed out, is not in her place—fiercely opposed. It is true of our policies for wider pensions and share ownership and it is true of this measure, which places new opportunities in the hands of parents, teachers and governors, so that the people most closely involved with our schools can truly develop a sense of ownership towards their schools and the education provided for the children in them.
The parents charter made it clear that our policies involve giving parents important rights to complement their important responsibilities. For example, parents have a right to choose between available schools, which will bring financial pressure to bear on less effective schools and increase standards for all; parents have a right to good information about schools so that they can make informed choices in the best interests of their children and keep school performance up to the mark; parents have a right to good information about how their children are doing at school so that they can form a genuine partnership with the teachers and staff [Interruption.] I am pleased to see the hon. Memberr for Dewsbury in her place.
Parents have the right to influence the management of their schools through serving as governors and voting in ballots on grant-maintained status; and parents have the right to be heard when things go wrong, meaning that appeal and complaints machinery is required by law.
All those rights, which were denied to parents for generations, are now enjoyed by parents, thanks to Conservative Governments and the series of reforming Education Acts from 1980 onwards. The Bill builds on those achievements and will ensure that, as the new framework emerges, those rights are preserved and enhanced.
The Minister said that it is important for parents to be fully informed about the proposals. Will he join me in congratulating West Glamorgan county council on providing fair but forceful information that persuaded the parents of Gowerton comprehensive school to vote overwhelmingly not to go for grant-maintained status? Will he endorse how the county council provided that information?
Is my hon. Friend aware of the progress that has been made at Hendon school since it became the first school in London to become grant maintained? Is he aware that, when it was under local education authority control, it was undersubscribed and that it is now heavily oversubscribed? Is he further aware that the headmaster has now been able to spend much more on books and teaching materials than he could when the school was under local education authority control?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks because they underline a general point that I wish to make to the House. The latest senior chief inspector's report on grant-maintained schools for the academic year 1991 gives the following gratifying conclusion. The independent senior chief inspector says:
Standards of work in grant-maintained schools were rather higher than they were in the maintained sector as a whole and many of the schools had been able to improve the quality and extent of accommodation, equipment, books stocked and other learning resources through the use of capital grant and a redeployment of the current grant now within their control.
That makes the point clearly that, once schools go grant maintained, many educational benefits flow from it.
The Bill will clarify parents' rights and responsibilities, for example, in cases of truancy, and extend parental rights where children have or may have special educational needs. I shall return to those two important topics in a few moments, but for now I wish to emphasise to the House that the Bill, far from being a measure to impose a pattern of education on England and Wales, will enable a new system to evolve and will enhance choice and diversity. Developments under the aegis of the Bill will be driven by popular demand, by parents freely voting in school-based ballots on whether to go grant maintained.
It is a travesty for Opposition parties to misrepresent that process as undemocratic when they must know that the turn-out in ballots for grant-maintained status is typically a good deal higher than in local government elections. Indeed, the average turn-out in grant-maintained ballots is some 60 per cent., whereas the average turn out at local government elections is 40 per cent.
Does not the Minister recognise that the intention behind the Bill is that one generation of parents in a school should take the irrevocable decision on whether the school should become grant-maintained? That is in sharp contrast to the democratic processes in education at present. In many local authorities the debate about the future of schools has been conducted year in, year out by an informed and educated public. Are not the proposals a denial of democracy?
Our proposals are much more democratic than many of the carryings on in local authorities, particularly some Labour-controlled authorities where the elected representatives get notoriously out of touch with their local electorate.
The Bill is truly an enabling measure to create a sensible evolutionary framework within which parental choice and institutional diversity can thrive and grow. By contrast, the Opposition once again appear to argue for drab uniformity, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday, and are the leading apologists for the bureaucrats in town and county halls throughout the land.
However, such are the vicissitudes of politics that we on this Bench are prepared to offer a small prize—only a small one in the week of the autumn statement—to the first of my hon. Friends who guesses correctly the date on which the Opposition do another of their U-turns and accept our policy of enabling and encouraging the emergence of grant-maintained schools.
Is the Minister aware of the comments made by Professor Brian Cox, a former guru of the Tory party, on the excellent "North Westminster" programme on BBC on Sunday, when he commented on the Government's proposals? He expressed concern about the effect that market forces are having on education and said:
It will harm children from poorer homes, in difficult areas. That's the place where this kind of emphasis on choice will do most harm.
He went on to add:
middle class parents may be able to choose and move about a little bit but the local authorities have been responsible for helping children where the parents lack money and often lack initiative to know how to help their children.
That is what an adviser to the Tory Government said. What does the Minister think about it?
There was a time when the Conservative party wholeheartedly approved of the thrust of Professor Cox's advice. I regret to say that he seems to have lost touch with the educational realities of today. By that, I mean that one of the great things about grant-maintained schools is that they provide ladders of opportunity for children from disadvantaged as well as advantaged backgrounds. One has only to look at certain examples, such as Small Heath school in Birmingham, to see the validity in what I am saying.
As for the Liberal Democrats, the prize which I am offering to my hon. Friends must be even smaller because of that party's habit of going round and round in circles and ending up what I would describe as politically giddy. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is in his place. He was against the proposals in April, for them in May and his party is against them now. It would be interesting to know which way that weathervane will turn next.
I thought that I had responded to the accusation made in the Secretary of State's opening remarks on that point. He referred to an article that appeared in a local newspaper in my constituency. I hope that the Minister will now accept that that newspaper reported only the first half of my remarks, which are totally consistent with the policy document to which he subsequently referred—that is, that the Liberal Democrats would like to see more power and autonomy given to individual schools. But the other part of the document was that it was within the context of strategic planning—
In the light of that orgy of special pleading, I have two suggestions to make to the hon. Gentleman. First, he should put his entire remarks in the Library of the House of Commons, which has become an important practice these days. Secondly, he should resign his consultancy for the grant-maintained school.
May I respond to that clear accusation? It will take me a second, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I hope that I shall have an opportunity to make the position clear.
During the two and a half years prior to becoming a Member of the House, I worked for a major international consultancy organisation. During that time, my firm applied for audit of a number of educational organisations and, on a few occasions, my name was attached to those applications as the educational consultant. The last time that my name was involved in such ways was more than two years ago. I do not continue to provide any consultancy of an educational nature for that organisation, nor have I done so for some two years. I hope that the Minister will accept that that is the case.
The hon. Gentleman has made his position clear and I pay tribute to him for that.
I want to say a few words about the important and continuing role of local education authorities under the terms of the Bill. There has been a lot of self-serving and misleading talk about this, mostly from Opposition Members, many of whom have backgrounds in local government as elected officials or as employees. We will not abolish LEAs in the Bill; we will not even abolish local education committees, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury was implying. Rather, we are allowing local authorities to organise themselves as they see fit and to evolve in the most effective ways in order to enable them to concentrate on those tasks which they can perform best and which they are best placed to perform. In education, that means carrying out important continuing functions in the realms of special educational needs and school attendance.
On special needs, which I hope can be approached in a relatively non-partisan spirit in the Chamber and in Committee, part III of the Bill illustrates the citizens charter in action. It reinforces the statutory framework for the involvement of parents in their children's education. It embodies three basic principles: first, that parents should have a clear and comprehensive set of rights; secondly, that parents should be able to judge the action of local education authorities against a statutory code of practice; and, thirdly, that, if dissatisfied, parents should have a simple, straightforward means of appeal to an independent tribunal.
Thus, parents will have a right to ask local education authorities to assess their child if they believe that he has special educational needs, a right to know the name of the officer with whom they will deal and a right to make written and oral representations. If the authority decides to issue a statement of special educational needs, parents will have new rights over the choice of the maintained school that they wish their child to attend. Subject to certain reasonable conditions, the authority will be obliged to comply with that preference. If parents wish their child to attend a non-maintained or independent school, they will have a right to make written and oral representations to that effect. Once their child has a statement, parents will have a right to request a reassessment.
The code of practice will enable parents to judge whether authorities are fulfilling their duties. It will set criteria against which authorities will decide whether to assess a child and, subsequently, to issue a statement. At the same time, regulations will govern the manner in which authorities carry out assessments, setting, in particular, statutory time limits. We shall issue a clear guide for parents, so that they can understand authorities' duties and judge their performance.
Under the Bill, parents will have new rights of appeal. There will be a new, independent special educational needs tribunal. Local authorities will no longer sit in judgment on their own actions. Parents may appeal to the tribunal against an authority's refusal to assess their child, a refusal to issue a statement or a refusal to reassess their child. Parents may also appeal to the tribunal if the authority declines to name the maintained school of their choice or the non-maintained or independent school for which they have made representations. For the first time, parents will have the right to put their case in person to an independent body or to ask a friend to do so for them. The tribunal will take full account of the code of practice in reaching its decisions. Those decisions will be binding on the authority.
The Government believe that all parents should be involved in their children's education. We are determined that parents of children who are most in need of help should have every opportunity to make their voices heard and their choices met. The Bill gives statutory force to those principles.
In regard to what the Minister said about special education, will the Bill ensure a continuation of the process towards full integration of children with special needs into other classes and prevent retrogression to the "sin bin" syndrome whereby those with special needs are lumped together in one group and not integrated as much as possible?
The hon. Gentleman is making good points and is underlining the direction in which policy is moving. That thrust of policy is continuing. A few years ago, 14 per cent. of such children were integrated in ordinary schools; I understand that 35 per cent. are now integrated. The hon. Gentleman was right to make that point.
Following on from that, can my hon. Friend assure me that there will be no compulsion, because many parents of children with special educational needs want them to be in special schools? In one case, my local authority, Kirklees, tried to force the issue against great opposition. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Government approach will be flexible?
If parents are concerned, my hon. Friend should be aware that that is why we have made provision in the Bill for a tribunal specifically to consider such representations.
On school attendance, part IV of the Bill makes provision for enforcing regular school attendance on the part of children of compulsory school age. The Government set great store by ensuring that children go to school and stay there throughout the school day. Regular attendance is of vital importance if children are to benefit from the opportunities that education offers them. Children who stay away from school are more likely to grow up unhappy and unfulfilled and to leave school much less qualified than they might otherwise have been. Worse still, such children may sometimes be drawn into a life of crime.
The Prime responsibility under the law for seeing that children attend school regularly rests with parents, but schools must also regard maximising attendance as one of their most important tasks. They should take particular care to ensure that registers are properly maintained and that all instances of unjustified absence are pursued with vigour. From this autumn, all maintained schools will have to publish their truancy records—a powerful incentive for under-performing schools to do better.
It is also important that local education authorities should use their legal powers to bring before the courts parents who have failed to ensure that their children go to school. Part IV of the Bill therefore consolidates and updates existing provisions scattered across a number of Acts—provisions which are concerned with the means by which local education authorities enforce the legal responsibilities of parents in respect of school attendance, the extent to which parental choice may be taken into account when LEAs are issuing school attendance orders, the rights and obligations of the schools named in such orders, and the machinery for dealing with those parents who choose to flout the law and put their children's future at risk. As such, I hope that this part of the Bill will command the support of all parts of the House.
On the important subject of failing schools, I also hope that we can reach a measure of bipartisan agreement, because for too long education authorities of all political persuasions have been tempted to sweep these problems under the carpet and have taken action only when an inspector's report has forced the issue into the open and it has been unavoidable. It is not good enough to fail large numbers of pupils in this way. We intend to tackle the problem urgently and the Bill will give us the extra means of doing so.
Under the passage of the Education (Schools) Act 1992, there were no systematic arrangements for identifying schools which were failing their pupils. The Bill moves forward to build upon that framework. It provides for clear procedures to remedy deficiencies in failing schools. The Education (Schools) Act provides for the regular and rigorous inspection of all maintained schools. There will be independent inspection of the quality of teaching and the standards achieved every four years. Every report will be published and made available to parents of children at the school. The report will highlight the strengths and the weaknesses. Schools will have to publish a plan of action to tackle the weaknesses identified by the inspectors and report on progress to parents every year. It is healthy that they should do that every year.
Where a report identifies very serious weaknesses in many aspects of teaching in a school—in other words, where the school is "at risk"—we shall ensure that deficiencies are remedied as quickly as possible so that the education of the children in the school is improved. That will be done by requiring the governing body to draw up an action plan. That plan will go to the local authority for comment and for proposals for it to play a greater role if it thinks the action proposed by the Governors is inadequate. The LEA will have a new power to appoint additional governors and enhanced power to withdraw delegated functions. Once delegation is withdrawn, the LEA would regain control over staffing matters, which should help the authority to take firm and effective action to address the problems of the school. The sort of firm and effective action which tends to be most effective is changing the head teacher.
The Secretary of State will see the plans from the governors and from the local education authority. He will then have an opportunity to consider whether the plans provide a clear basis for improving the performance of the school. If so, the school and the LEA will be allowed to put the plans into effect, and their progress in taking the necessary remedial action will be closely monitored. However, if my right hon. Friend judges that the action plan from the governing body and the supporting plan from the LEA would not result in improvements within a reasonable period, he could use the power in the Bill to bring the school under the management of an education association immediately. Equally, if the monitoring process showed that insufficient progress was being made, he would also be able to use this new power.
Education associations will provide a remedy for failing county and voluntary schools, but should a grant-maintained school be identified in an inspection report as being at risk, my right hon. Friend will have the power to replace all the first governors of the school. That would secure a majority on the governing body and thus achieve the same remedial purposes in the GM sector as in the LEA-maintained sector.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me on this important matter, which he calls performance. Given the freedom of governing bodies in LEAs and the freedom of which the Minister boasts for grant-maintained schools, and the advice that can be offered them, what additional skill does he think the education associations will be able to provide —they are presumably not statutory bodies—that would not be available to the local education authority or to the governors? He should also bear in mind that GM schools will have advice from the Department.
The associations would be set up under statute, under the rubric of the Bill. More to the point, we now have the possibility of injecting into failing schools the right sort of leadership and teaching skills—the right people to lead a school out of trouble. Schools get into trouble because their leadership has failed to come up to the standards required. This is how education associations will be able to help all failing schools, except grant-maintained schools, the approach to which I have already described.
We have received positive responses to our proposals for action in the case of failing schools, and I have every confidence that the House will support them wholeheartedly. No one wants failing schools left in disarray. We have to be able to step in to remedy problems in schools when their local authorities or their governors may have failed them. We owe as much to the children in such schools. They have only one chance of a school career. We must therefore do everything possible to see that they make the best of their talents and opportunities, especially if the school in which they find themselves is shown by the inspectorate to be at risk in this way. Nothing less will do for my right hon. Friend and my other ministerial colleagues.
Has the Minister given any consideration to providing governors with the power to remove a chairman who the governors believe is not acting in the best interests of a school, or a power to enable them to recommend the removal of a serving governor whose behaviour is unsatisfactory?
That is an interesting point, to which I do not have the answer. I shall invite my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools to deal with it when he winds up the debate.
Finally, I should like to summarise as succinctly as I can the case for GM schools, as they are central to the purposes of this Bill. They are popular with parents. They encourage increased parental involvement. They are directly accountable to the local community. They have control of their own budgets and they can manage their own affairs. They can secure value for money and redirect resources to premium educational purposes. Above all, they are characterised by a new and positive ethos. Andrew Adonis, writing in the Financial Times earlier this week—he is a Liberal councillor and, on this issue, no friend of the Government—had this to say:
A visit to most grant-maintained schools reveals an extra sense of pride and commitment among the staff at running their own show entirely free from local bureaucrats.
So at least a few members of the Liberal party have seen the light.
The framework set out in the Bill allows for flexible and evolutionary development. The pace of change will be determined by the outcome of parental ballots on GM status. The Bill is about conserving the best and reforming the rest.
The Bill rests on foundations laid down in previous years. It contains a range of provisions based on the philosophy set out in the White Paper—a philosophy that emphasises that structural and other reforms are pointless unless they are aimed at improving the quality of what is provided in the classroom. It is our conviction that the best way of achieving quality within the framework of the national curriculum is to increase parental choice and institutional diversity. That means not only greater autonomy for schools but greater accountability to parents and the community.
We have made great progress in recent years in reforming our education system. Our White Paper set out our vision; once implemented, the Bill will help us to realise that vision. As we approach the next century, our education system will be characterised not by uniformity but by diversity, not by bureaucratic power but by parent power, not by levelling down but by levelling up. Our system of education will be much the better for that. The Bill is one more vital stage on our long journey towards a really well-educated and trained society. It is a real investment in human capital, and I hope that the House will support it in the Lobby tonight.
The Government have had 13 years and they have not managed to do much yet.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) on what I understand is his first performance in an education debate. I am sure that he will be glad to have that ordeal out of the way. This is my first opportunity to take part in an education debate, too. [Interruption.] Before the Secretary of State gets too excited, I shall come to him in a moment.
The right hon. Gentleman had better stay for the latter part of my speech. I have some genuine thoughts to offer him.
I take issue with the Minister's speech on two points. First, he was unwise to suggest that Opposition Members who have been members of local authorities or education authorities, or who have worked as teachers or as education officers, should be disqualified from taking part in debates on education. I should have thought that the House needs a little more expertise. The Government have been getting into a mess not only over education but in many other disastrous areas, and they should welcome a little more expertise among their own ranks as well.
In a moment. The Minister is on thin ice when he suggests that we are not qualified to contribute to the debate. I looked at "Dod" to discover what the Minister's interests were: they certainly had nothing to do with education. He is interested in economic policy, foreign policy, environmental issues and European issues. It is a pity that he is not interested in education, but I hope that as time goes by he will become more interested in it—
The hon. Gentleman has referred to Members serving in local government. As one who served in local government for 17 years, may I tell him that what I saw there convinces me that this Bill is right?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should not rely so exclusively on "Dod"—he should look at other sources as well. He would find there that, before becoming a Minister, I had been involved in the world of education in one capacity or another, usually part-time because of my responsibilities as a Back Bencher. For many years I taught at Essex university and in other universities. I taught for the Workers Educational Association; I took four degrees; and I know a little bit about the world of education. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his remark.
All I can say is that it did not show in the hon. Gentleman's speech.
However well experienced the Minister is, he is no Secretary of State for Wales. If the Bill is so important, why was the Secretary of State for Wales not on the Front Bench this evening to open the debate on behalf of the Welsh Office? We know that he does not have a mandate in Wales and that the people of Wales did not vote for him or for the Bill, but the Secretary of State has responsibility for education in Wales and the least he could have done was come to the House to answer to the Bill to which he is a signatory.
In that case, I accept without reservation the Secretary of State's absence. However, he was absent throughout yesterday's debate, apart from the closing speeches. I do not know the domestic arrangements to which the Minister referred, but I understand that it was never the Secretary of State's intention to speak in the debate, whether or not there had been a bereavement or other demands on his time.
The hon. Gentleman made a handsome statement about my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and greeted him on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box; my hon. Friend made an excellent first speech. The hon. Gentleman said that he, too, was making his first speech in his new capacity and we agreed that this was a momentous moment. Therefore, we started off in a nice bipartisan way. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it might be fitting for him to apologise to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, whom he traduced as having no educational experience—a man who has been a university lecturer? The hon. Gentleman really should try to put things right.
I have seen such behaviour before. For the past four years I have been shadowing the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is something of an excitable individual, and I am seeing exactly the same behaviour this evening. There may be an explanation for it. It is relevant to the Bill—
I have the option of exercising my usual courtesy in giving way to Conservative Members who wish to intervene, or desisting. If I wished to desist, I am sure that they would rise on points of order, making life difficult for you, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, it is important that we come on to the Bill.
It is as well to consider the attitudes of the Secretary of State for Education which have been demonstrated this evening. He is fond of tut-tutting in moral indignation about the state of our society, and that is the belief which lies at the heart of the Bill. In April this year, having just taken up his office, he wrote in an article in The Spectator:
Dwindling belief in redemption and damnation have led to loss of fear of the eternal consequences of goodness and badness.
The Scotsman commented on that, saying:
But he clearly sees a relevance to his new portfolio as Education Secretary since he wants schools to play a part in restoring the fear of damnation among the young. Rather
alarmingly for a Minister responsible for science he also holds scientific advance in part responsible for loss of admonitory faith. His sincerity is not to be doubted, but his logic assuredly is.
For a Minister who is charged with the development of education policy to allow for the full provision of citizenship for our young people and for the development of the potential of our young people as they progress through the education system and to create a system of education which meets the social and economic needs of our country, the right hon. Gentleman is alarmingly out of touch. He shows himself to be an unbalanced and irrational Minister.
The Minister's faulty logic can be seen in the Bill. We are told that this is the cap on the progress of 13 years. Since 1979 we have had 17 major pieces of legislation and countless pieces of secondary legislation, but where is the progress? Where do we look in our education system to see the brave new world which, time and again, we have been told would be created by that legislation?
There is much need for reform, but the Bill is not the jewel in the crown. If there is need for reform in our education service, it was identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) yesterday when he referred to the £1·5 billion underfunding in the education system. We can see it in Wales, where capital expenditure on school buildings has been cut by 35 per cent. since 1981. [Interruption.] The Minister of State will have a chance to correct me if he wishes.
There is a need for reform. We want decent buildings and an end to overcrowding. In Wales during the past 10 years, the teacher-pupil ratio in junior schools has worsened. We need a Government who will stop denigrating the teaching profession, stop centralising and start working with the local education authorities to allow them to get on with the job. None of that is contained in the Bill and that is what makes it, at best, an irrelevance and, at worst, an appalling interference with the good practice that has been developed by our local education authorities.
On a factual point, I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got his figure for a decrease in capital allocations, but there has been a real-terms increase in capital allocations of 21 per cent. since 1986–87. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that, as I said last night, in the current year there was an underspend by local education authorities in Wales on the capital side of 15 per cent. There was also an underspend last year and the year before.
The Minister is making two substantial points. The Minister knows as well as I do that on the underspend I was quoting the period from 1980 to 1991, the period during which the Government had been in control of the education budget. It is perfectly reasonable for me to use that period and it is unreasonable to the Minister to apply those figures from 1985 to 1991. I am afraid that he will not get away with that trick.
The second suggestion is that there has been underspending by local authorities. I discussed that very matter this morning with the treasurer of my local education authority. He explained to me the difficulties in meeting the revenue contributions to capital expenditure because of the cuts and the capping for which the Government are responsible. If there is an underspend, it is nothing to do with an over-provision for education. If the Minister is saying that we do not need to spend money on our schools, I suggest that he visits schools in Cardiff, Newport, Swansea or the valley communities.
The Government have allowed precious little opportunity for debate and public consultation on the White Paper and I am clear that that was done deliberately and cynically to prevent there being any real debate. But even within that limited time there was universal criticism from schools, educationists, local authorities, trade unionists, parents, teachers and everyone involved in the education system.
A Times editorial summed it up very well on 29 July, stating:
The government is dismayed at Britain's poor education record and has responded as governments always respond. It has blamed everybody but itself, and decided to nationalise the schools … This is one of the most dramatic extensions of Whitehall power seen since the war … This is a devastating vote of no confidence in local democracy … Nationalisation will make schools more not less uniform … The government has not thought through its search for 'diversity, parental choice, specialism and standards' in the resulting school system.
That criticism, expressed by Simon Jenkins—then editor of The Times—reflects very well the plethora of condemnation that has come from every part of the country.
I think that, for the sake of completeness, the House should be acquainted with the mature and considered view expressed by a Times leader on 31 October. That leader stated:
If the bill seems to have conflicting motives—centralising control of the curriculum where it preaches greater diversity, for example—it is because the political manoeuvring of the education establishment has left little alternative. The interlocking influence of the schools inspectorate, the colleges of education, the teaching unions and the council education officers who dominate the staffing of state schools present a skilful variety of different faces when threatened with change.
That is the real view of The Times today.
If the Minister wanted to use the conversion of The Times in support of his case, he should have done so during his speech. He chose not to do so, however, and I chose to cite the view expressed by The Times—under its then editor—when the document was published, when the issue was open to consultation and when the Government were seeking the views of the public. As far as I am concerned, that is the record, and the record must stand.
Given that the Government have presided over 1:3 years of what has been at best a mediocre performance, and given that their proposals have been condemned by all who have the best interests of education at heart, why on earth are the Government introducing the Bill? What do they intend to do?
We can identify three developments. First, there is the desire to control—a theme which has run through many of the policies of the present Government and their two predecessors. By that, I mean the view that Whitehall knows best; that, if powers can be taken away from the centre—from the pluralistic institutions of our society—we shall have a better form of government. Secondly, there is an anti-local government ethos, principally because local government has stood out against the Government's centralising tendencies. Thirdly, and most worrying of all, the Bill paves the way for the reintroduction of selection in schools, and, I believe, for the reintroduction of market forces in the education system.
The Bill is a recipe for chaos, and I think that the Secretary of State knows that. Last night, when challenged about the way in which the policies would affect surplus school places, the right hon. Gentleman said:
We must also deal with the removal of surplus school places … The money wasted on maintaining many of those places should he available to spend on children and their teachers, to whom I am most grateful. I guess that many of them would be glad if some of the money locked up in surplus school places was available in the classroom."—[Official Report, 9 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 635.]
Those are perfectly acceptable and sensible sentiments. Unfortunately, however, the system of grant-maintained schools is being deliberately abused by the Welsh Office to undermine the very process of rationalisation that is taking place in Wales.
Two clear examples are Cwmcarn and Brynmawr schools, both of which have been earmarked for closure by Gwent county council as part of a proposed rationalisation programme. Both were small and had declining rolls, and it was considered necessary to secure the future of the other schools in the catchment area. I know that it is difficult for the Minister of State to come to terms with this, because he does not really know where the schools are.
His ignorance is clearly shared by the Secretary of State for Education. Last night, when my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) was making the same point, the Secretary of State suggested that the two schools were in my hon. Friend's constituency. He subsequently had to apologise from the Dispatch Box, with the immortal words, "I am not very good at geography." That is something of an admission, coming from a reader in geography at the university of Oxford. However, we are concerned not with the Secretary of State's knowledge of geography, but with his knowledge of education. His proposals are destructive and damaging.
Let me give another example first: it relates directly to the Minister of State, and he may wish to respond.
About 12 months ago, I had a conversation with the Minister—not a confidential conversation—about a school in my constituency, Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni. It is a Welsh-medium school. The building is very old; the comprehensive school had moved out, and the building had become surplus to requirements. It was sub-standard accommodation, decrepit and with holes in the roof. Mid Glamorgan county council, however, is striving bravely to provide Welsh-medium education there.
I said to the Minister, informally, "Wyn, we really do have a problem at Ysgol Gyfun. The building is dilapidated and outdated, and the form of education provided there is unacceptable in the 20th century." The Minister replied, "Tell it to opt out." Of course, in the Minister's eyes, that made absolute sense. Tell the school to opt out; then it will go to the top of the list. It will receive preferential treatment, priority treatment.
That is all very well for Ysgol Gyfun, in which I have a particular and passionate interest, but what about the other schools that will be prejudiced as a result of such priority treatment? The example of Ysgol Gyfun illustrates very well the fact that some individuals in my constituency stand to benefit, while other schools in Mid Glamorgan will lose resources and suffer as a result. Moreover, if the Minister gives Ysgol Gyfun additional resources, the peculiar way in which our local education authorities are financed—education resources are not hypothecated, as they are in England—means that Mid Glamorgan's social services, such as provision for children and the elderly, will be cut.
It is precisely because schools under local authority control do not receive all the resources that they could receive—in terms of both revenue and capital —that I recommended such a course. As for Cwmcarn, a grant-maintained school, it is the constituency of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). If that school should have closed, why did the right hon. Gentleman—then Leader of the Opposition—put the strongest possible case for its retention?
I know where Cwmcarn school is. I taught a couple of miles up the road at Newbridge school. I know, too, that that school is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn, who was then the leader of the Labour party. If that school had not been in the Islwyn constituency, I also know that it would not have been granted permission to opt out. That decision had nothing to do with the educational merits of Cwmcarn school. It was an act of deliberate malice to try to embarrass the leader of the Labour party.
The Minister of State properly referred to the question of funding. Let me take this opportunity to put a direct question both to him and to the Under-Secretary of State for Schools, who is to reply to the debate. Can the Minister of State give a guarantee that any funds that are made available for schools such as Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni will be additional to the expenditure currently being made available to Mid Glamorgan county council? is that new money? Can the Minister answer that question?
I think that we shall all find that Thursday is a day for bad news.
The Minister is encouraging schools to opt out. He knows that money is not available and that the additional resources, which will be accelerated by means of the Bill, will be taken away from people who are already underfunded. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Schools who is to reply to the debate will deal with a subject that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers). It has been the subject of considerable press speculation. I understand that 65 local education authorities in England are overspending on the basis of their standard spending assessments to the tune of about £524 million. In addition, 43 local education authorities are spending £311 million below their SSAs. Can we have a clear and unequivocal statement that—
I got an answer even before I asked the question. The Minister shows himself to be a man of considerable talents. If we cannot have the answer, how on earth can the Government give the assurance that they give at the moment, which is that schools stand to benefit financially if they opt out? Notwithstanding Thursday's proposals, the Minister tells us that the Government can give no guarantees.
For those local authorities that are spending above their SSAs, the problem is that the calculation that will be used to provide schools with additional resources will be based not on the SSA but on the current expenditure of the local education authority. That means that it will have more money than if the calculation had been based on the SSA. We are told, however, that in two years' time the formula will revert to the SSA. That must provide a clear warning signal to any school that is considering opting out that it will be offered a financial inducement and a bribe now, but in two years' time, however, it will find that the promised money is not forthcoming. That is before the cuts that we know will be announced on Thursday. The Minister cannot give an answer.
One of my constituents wrote to the Secretary of State for Education on 20 August. She had been a school governor. She is a parent and is very much involved in her local community. She urged caution on the Government and pleaded with them to think of the implications and to consult widely before introducing these reforms. She received a reply from the Department for Education on 18 September. It said:
Dear Mrs. Davies"—
She is no relation
Thank you for your letter
concerning the White Paper "Choice and Diversity: A New Framework for Schools"
of 20 August to the Secretary of State about the above. This is, however, a matter for the Welsh Office…and I have passed your letter to them to reply to you direct.
My constituent had not received a reply from the Welsh Office by 19 October, so she contacted me and asked me to take up the matter with the Welsh Office, which I did straight away. A few weeks later I had a reply from the Secretary of State for Wales, which said:
Dear Ron, Thank you for your letter of 19 October on behalf of Mrs. Davies … I am sorry that Mrs. Davies has had to wait so long for a reply. We do not, however, have any record of her letter being received from the Department of Education.
That is a fairly good illustration of the extent to which the Welsh Office is involved in decision making—that an individual who makes a formal submission to the Secretary of State for Education urging caution in response to the consultation document has the courtesy of
a reply from the Secretary of State for Education but does not even receive an acknowledgement from the Secretary of State for Wales. Apparently, the Welsh Office cannot even find her letter.
Even better is to come. The Secretary of State for Wales tried to reassure Mrs. Davies by saying:
Within these arrangements"—
regarding grant-maintained schools—
there is nothing to prevent LEAs continuing to provide advice and services to all schools, even those that have decided to become grant maintained.
That is a completely misleading and dishonest statement. As grant-maintained schools opt out of local education authority control, the ability of LEAs to provide a central core of services will he diminished by each and every opt out. Apart from the local education authorities being subverted, the whole capital expenditure programme will be subverted. There will be top slicing. The cream will be taken off. The ability of local authorities to deliver their statutory requirements, in terms of attendance and transport, will be undermined.
As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) made clear last night, the ability of local education authorities to make provision for special needs will be undermined. Their ability to maintain establishments for outdoor activities will also be undermined. The provision of peripatetic teachers for services that cannot be provided in all schools will be undermined as schools opt out. The advisory service that seeks to improve and maintain the quality of teaching in the classroom, will be undermined because of the undermining of local education authorities.
Welsh-medium education in Wales will be undermined, too. I shall give the Minister two examples. I have already referred to Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni. If that school were to decide to opt out, parents in the Rhymney valley who wish their children to have a Welsh-medium education will have no option. They will be able to send their children to an opted-out school or they will be denied Welsh-medium education. That is no choice. I know that the Minister of State has actively encouraged Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni to opt out. If it does, the provision of Welsh-medium education in Mid Glamorgan will be undermined.
I know that my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in Gwynedd are concerned about the way in which the opting out of schools will undermine and destroy the cohesive fabric of Welsh education as it has developed in the county of Gwynedd.
My hon. Friend is making an absolutely excellent speech—[Interruption.]—far superior to the speech that we heard yesterday from the Secretary of State for Education. Does my hon. Friend agree that the educational psychology service will also be undermined? As schools opt out, local authorities will need fewer educational psychologists and therefore will be unable to provide that service to opted-out schools. Special educational needs will be affected by opting out.
My hon. Friend is correct. That is why parents are voting increasingly against the proposals—most dramatically in the case of Gowerton in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell). Recently they voted against the proposals by about three and a half or four to one. There was no bribery or persuasion. The information was presented to the parents and they came to a balanced judgment.
My hon. Friend perhaps underestimates the fact that, when local authorities find themselves in this dilemma, as did West Glamorgan county council in the case of Gowerton comprehensive school, they sometimes shift towards delegating a much larger proportion of their budget to local schools that are not grant-maintained. The threshold for the retention of core services could be diminished so much that their retention, which is so important if the family of schools is to be retained, is fundamentally undermined. Local education authorities must ensure that they do not delegate too much of their budget to non-grantmaintained schools, or that will happen.
My hon. Friend makes his case very powerfully and persuasively, and in so doing raises a further point. I wish that the Minister of State, Welsh Office would consult the Under-Secretary of State for Education and give us an answer. Hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies are concerned about the local government reorganisation. I am aware of the delays that might result from the reorganisation in England, but the Secretary of State for Wales has told us that there will not be a commission for Wales or any delay because the Government will move immediately to a pattern of unitary authorities. That has peculiar circumstances and consequences in Wales, because the central debate is about what form of local authority will be best equipped to pick up the residual responsibility that is now discharged by the local education authority. As yet, we do not know.
We have the prospect of the Bill going through Parliament, but at the same time the Secretary of State is sitting on the proposals that will determine the form of local government in Wales that will have to operate it. It is a nightmare for those involved in local authority planning, especially local education authority services. I plead with the Minister of State, Welsh Office to consider that matter and the enormous worry that is being felt by those in local government in Wales and to ensure that when the Under-Secretary of State for Schools replies he will be in a position to give a considered answer to the point.
Does not the hon. Gentleman see that it is his rather pathetic and craven adherence to the thought that only an LEA or local authority monopoly provider can possibly make any education provision that has got him into the box that he is in? The more flexible people are prepared to be and the more that schools are prepared to look beyond their LEAs for the provision of services, the more flexible and certain that provision is likely to be. That applies as much, or more, in Wales as anywhere else.
Let me concede straight away that the Government won the last election, have a majority in the House and have every right to put this legislation through the House. I question their right to legislate for Wales, but I shall concede that point for a moment. The Minister must recognise that the number of schools that have opted out in Wales can be counted on one hand. He said that local government reorganisation will take effect from 1995. The prospect of anything more than a dozen or a couple of dozen schools opting out will not be a reality for four or five years.
All the experience tells us that, and the Minister should consider it.
In the meantime, those who plan local education authority services must decide what to do next year. Those who are considering how the new local authorities will operate after 1995 must know on what basis they will discharge services, or does the Under-Secretary think that that can be put to one side—"Local authorities are redundant so we need not worry and, hopefully, a trust will come along, organise a ballot and do it themselves"? That was implicit in the casual, dismissive attitude of the Under-Secretary.
Education in Wales is now endangered. It is doubly endangered by the Bill and the spectre of local government reorganisation, which the Government are making a hash of, and they are refusing to tell the Welsh people what will happen.
If there is one hon. Member at whom the Secretary of State cannot throw that accusation, it is me. If, however, you, Madam Deputy Speaker, deem it appropriate to allow him to rise to the Dispatch Box, I clearly must accept it.
I want some answers from the Minister that will allow those responsible for planning education in Wales to carry out their task on a reasonable and coherent basis. The Secretary of State for Education and his cohorts are interested only in making cheap education points, and I am afraid that it will not wash.
Let me come to my final point—
I know that the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) has some difficulty with his attention span, but he was the first hon. Member to whom I gave way. Perhaps he should bear that in mind.
The Bill has been presented as a reforming measure which will offer choice and diversity in our education system. It will do nothing of the sort. It will lead to divisiveness and competition and will set school against school, community against community and provider against provider. That is of no benefit to parents, children or the proper development of education in this country. To many Conservative Members, that will be an unpalatable truth. It will become increasingly clear that it is the truth as the Bill proceeds and as our education service degenerates into chaos. I am convinced that it will not be too long before that chaos is reversed, either by a Government U-turn or by a Labour Government.
I shall try to set an example of brevity, because many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.
In common with many colleagues on both sides of the House, I spent many years in local government. I do not share the enthusiasm of those who seek to condemn it for all that is ill in the education system. For a period in my career, I was privileged to be chairman of the Convention of Local Education Authorities, and I would defend much of what local education authorities were able to achieve. In fact, much of the innovation in education came from them.
One must recognise that time has moved on, and that things that perhaps were possible in slightly happier days when there was much more consensus between local and national government are now no longer possible. It would be foolish of anyone to refuse to accept that that change has taken place.
Perhaps that is best exemplified by the way in which Secretaries of State of all political persuasions have fought with their Cabinet colleagues for their share of resources, so that what they see as the priorities for education expenditure are passed on to our schools.
Increasingly, the argument has turned on whether the money fought for at national level is being properly targeted in our schools. I have concluded, somewhat reluctantly, that the drawing of a much clearer line between funding determined nationally and resources available to be deployed by individual schools is long overdue. I propose to confine my remarks, therefore, to what I regard as the logic of the Government's own position.
I share the reservations expressed by many bodies, including the National Association of Head Teachers, over the difficulties that will probably arise—let us be frank —in the difficult period of transition from local education authorities to funding councils. We should consider that matter extremely carefully.
It would be much better, and in the logic of the Government's position, if each school had a clearly defined sum of money. Rather than allowing a somewhat woolly withering on the vine, we should say that, at a certain point—perhaps when 50 per cent. of schools have become grant-maintained—schools should go over to grant-maintained status completely. That would end the uncertainty once and for all.
The transition could become unnecessarily expensive and unduly bureaucratic. I should not want my right hon. Friend's hard-fought battles for education expenditure to end in such a dissipation of funds. I want all the money that my right hon. Friend can wring out of the Treasury to be spent in our schools, and I ask him to consider those points carefully during the passage of the Bill, which I regard as an opportunity.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to special educational needs. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) and I are both members of the Select Committee, and share an interest in that subject. I have been heartened by the attention that has been paid by hon. Members on both sides of the House to that aspect of education, which is especially important.
Like the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), I was a member of the Committee that considered the Education Act 1981, which became known as the Warnock Act. Members of that Committee attached a great deal of importance to special educational needs, and recognised the need to ensure that children with special education needs are dealt with properly and equitably within our system.
I warmly welcome the assurances given by the Minister in his opening speech. In the past, I have been critical of the Government for skating over the problem of special educational needs, and I believe that there were some deficiencies in the Education Reform Act 1988. I am therefore delighted that the Government are attacking the problem in the present Bill.
The Secretary of State knows that the Select Committee is considering a particular aspect of special educational needs, and I ask all hon. Members, including my ministerial colleagues, to accept that, as we discuss the new arrangements, we should not lose sight of the fundamental principles that were debated during the passage of the Warnock Act. Although we agreed that we should move much further towards integration—I welcome the figures that we have heard this afternoon—the Committee recognised the need, which we did not regard as one that would go away, for special centres of excellence to deal with the areas of greatest need.
Last Friday, I visited Rowan Park special school in my constituency and saw for myself the work that is being done with children whose need is so great that no one could realistically expect them to be integrated into mainstream schools. I talked to a teacher who told me that, that very day, one little boy with severe communication problems had said the word "duck" for the first time. Hon. Members may not think that that is a great achievement, but that child had previously been totally incapable of communicating, even by using eye contact, even though he could understand much of what was placed before him. When shown a farmyard scene, he volunteered the word "duck". The teacher said that it was the highlight of her week.
Special needs arouse much emotion, but we should nevertheless consider the matter coldly and objectively, which means ensuring that schools have the resources to cope with special needs because they cannot be dealt with on the cheap.
On a more general and slightly philosophical note, I remind the House of what the Minister said in his opening speech about the Government's desire for quality in the classroom. That desire is shared by all hon. Members, regardless of their views on how best such quality can be achieved. We should be aware that the reforms—the national curriculum and the delegation of budgets to schools, which have been warmly welcomed by many in our education system—need to be constantly reviewed to establish whether what is being achieved in schools measures up to the Government's expectations. The Committee stage will present us with an opportunity to consider that.
The Under-Secretary of State who will wind up the debate knows of my long-standing concern over the effects, in many our our schools, of formula funding. I welcome the assurance given to the Select Committee by the Secretary of State that, in their review of formula funding, the Government would consider all those important matters, because we cannot deliver an improvement in educational standards purely and simply by passing legislation.
We must be aware that improvements in standards are delivered by teachers who stand in front of classes. I am delighted at the increasing emphasis that my right lion. Friend is placing on that concept, thus giving the lie to the suggestion that all Conservative Members do is knock the teaching profession. That profession alone is capable of implementing the Government's reforms.
We therefore cannot refuse to listen to the fears and suggestions for improvements that are being made by those eminently qualified practitioners. We are talking not about people who mismanage their budgets but about people who find themselves having to make decisions that go against the interests of the qualitative improvements that the Government seek. It would be quite wrong if we did not take the opportunity afforded by the Bill's passage through the House to consider those matters.
The Bill contains much of merit, and continues with reforms that many of us believe to have been long overdue. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider this, however: it sometimes pays to look at what is actually happening as a consequence of such reforms. We should not be afraid of saying that some changes are necessary, but that need not deflect us from our central purpose, which is to ensure that our children have the best education that we can give them.
The press release which accompanied the publication of the Bill on 30 October boasted about its impressive vital statistics—200 pages, 252 clauses and 17 schedules. However, it did not point out the extremely short consultation period between the publication of the White Paper "Choice and Diversity: A New Framework for Schools" on 28 July and the publication of the Bill. That is surely one of the shortest consultation periods ever in relation to the significance claimed by many hon. Members for the Bill.
The White Paper had a remarkably short gestation period if it was to be, as was claimed, the crowning feature of more than a decade of Conservative education legislation. The White Paper never looked like a consultative document. The time scale and the features on the face of the Bill suggest that it was never intended to be such a document.
Therefore, the Bill bears the flaws evident throughout the White Paper. The aims of the White Paper—for the best education for every child—were blameless. Indeed, the Prime Minister put his name to those flawless aspirations. Unfortunately, the proposals that followed had little evident relevance to the achievement of those aims.
The White Paper had five great themes—quality, diversity, parental choice, autonomy and accountability. Of those, only the first has direct relevance to the aims set out in the foreword. The rest are, at the best, diversions.
My first reaction to the White Paper on 28 July was that, if the Secretary of State truly sought to clothe his aims with substance, then the emperor had no clothes. After further reflection and reading of the White Paper, I changed that image. I imagined one of those naked men that we sometimes see in variety shows dancing on the stage with balloons concealing their nakedness. The balloons were the proposals which diverted the reader's attention from the original aims of the Bill.
Let us consider the themes of diversity, parental choice, autonomy and accountability and see how they relate to the delivery of quality education for every child. In itself, diversity does not guarantee quality. Diversity in an education market is predicated on variations of quality for the consumer to choose between. In the White Paper and the Bill, grant-maintained schools are regarded as superior institutions in that education market.
Diversity of the kind envisaged in the Bill is a narrow distortion. It is diversity of schools that vary within parameters that have been tightly drawn by the Secretary of State. Diversity does not guarantee parental choice. For example, some parents would like schools to offer an education different from the parameters laid down from the centre by the Secretary of State. Some parents would like teaching of reading, course work and activity learning of types proscribed by the Secretary of State. There is no parental choice for those parents.
There is another way in which parents will not necessarily exercise their choice in an education market as envisaged in the Bill. If grant-maintained schools are over-subscribed, particularly if they become specialist schools—hon. Members have referred to that danger in the proposals—the choice will belong to the schools and not to parents. So much for parental choice.
Parental choice in itself will not guarantee quality. Parents differ, from being positively hostile to education, through apathy and incomprehension to being overzealous in what they demand and expect from schools. If the Secretary of State stands by his statement in the White Paper that parents always know best, are parents always right? If they are not, when, how and by whom will that be determined?
Nor is autonomy a guarantee of quality. It is dangerous for grant-maintained schools to be subjected to such little regulatory control as is envisaged in the Bill. Similarly, the principle of accountability in the Bill is a sham. The funding agencies for England and Wales are accountable to no one but the Secretary of State.
There is no local accountability, but the agencies are to have sole responsibility, or shared responsibility with local education authorities, for provision, distribution and management of school places. That is a matter of intense local significance. It is difficult to see any connection between that and the delivery of quality education to every child in every school in an area. In short, there was a mismatch between the impeccable aims of the White Paper and its proposals. That mismatch is carried through into this deeply flawed Bill.
The White Paper and the Bill are all about administration, and contain nothing about delivery of quality. They contain nothing about funding except proposals for bureaucratic structures the funding for which is to be found from savings on surplus places in schools. If those savings could be found, the money would be better spent on resources and teachers to fill the schools that are delivering education to our children. There is nothing in the White Paper about teachers—the people who are to deliver that quality education. The White Paper and the Bill are an empty sham.
I want to refer to the grant-maintained sector, because the expansion of that sector is central to the Bill's purpose. Every line of the Bill is based on the presumption that grant-maintained schools are superior, although there is no evidence yet to support that contention, but there is accumulating evidence of the problems into which such schools can run. It is all the more regrettable that, in default of that evidence, the Secretary of State is so determined to simplify, extend and accelerate the process of opting out.
The removal of the second ballot would make it possible for ambush tactics to be used. A vote might be taken at a thinly attended meeting at the end of a long agenda, with no counter-balancing opportunity. It is reprehensible that that situation should be made possible. Important decisions like a ballot to opt out should be taken coolly, and ratified in the light of full and informed debate.
There is scope for argument about the curbs on LEAs campaigning against opt-out proposals. We believe that the LEAs defend the legitimate interests of the community at large against a pressure group with selfish, narrow interests. The Government choose to view them differently, and to distort their purpose and practices. There may be some argument about that, but there is no argument about the inequality of curbing LEAs and at the same time supporting and encouraging governing bodies which want to campaign the other way. That is but one example of the more than even-handed treatment given to grant-maintained schools.
The Bill is weak in what it has to say on provision in grant-maintained schools for pupils with special educational needs. It now offers them the opportunity to apply for change of character at the point of opting out. I could recount a long list of more than even-handed enticements to schools that opt out, but I am aware of the time constraint.
I warn schools to beware, because there is the potential for discord and chaos in the suggestion that primary schools might opt out in clusters and that resources may be distributed inequitably between those clusters when those primary schools may still be in competition in the market.
We must also be aware of the big black hole of the future funding formula for grant-maintained and maintained schools to which my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) referred earlier.
There is not adequate time to refer to the potential for chaos in the division of responsibilities between funding agencies and local education authorities. Funding agencies are weak bodies. They have no responsibility for quality control, unlike their counterparts created by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. There is a potential for disputes and discord between funding agencies and local authorities. Such disputes must always be decided by the Secretary of State. We can guess which way the Secretary of State will make his decision in a dispute between funding agencies and local authorities.
This is a Bill of missed points and missed opportunities. The dangers in it—
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) has had experience on local education authorities. I spent 10 years on local education authorities and was on the Association of Metropolitan Authorities education committee. I agree with my hon. Friend that not all local authorities are bad.
The Bill recognises—it is a difficulty that the Labour party does not seem to be able to address—that if standards in the classroom are to be raised, it will be done by encouraging the partnership of parents, teachers and pupils, on which all good education depends. The best way to encourage that partnership is to ensure that parents have a direct and intimate investment in their own schools. Grant-maintained schools and their popularity are all about that process of empowerment.
I shall not give way because I have only 10 minutes.
I welcome the streamlined procedures for grant-maintained schools in the Bill. I recognise the importance of education associations when things go wrong. I recognise that it is important for the Government to take action against truancy and to strengthen the moral curriculum of schools.
It is curious that the Labour party seems to have abandoned parents and parental choice. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday, on 10 June the previous Opposition spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), appeared to move towards parents when he said that Labour must not appear to be in a position of opposition to those parents who would like greater control over their own schools.
It is curious that the Labour party should be against the parents and schools given that the last survey showed that 88 per cent. of grant-maintained schools had an increase in the number of pupils following the change to grant-maintained status and 82 per cent. had an increase in the books and equipment that they were able to produce for their children.
Graham Lock, the headmaster of Audenshaw high school, a grant-maintained school in Manchester, said:
It is a bit of an insult for Labour to say to the same people who want to take power over these schools that they are entitled to vote for the Government but they are not fit to vote for the way they want these schools to be run.
I said that Audenshaw school was in Greater Manchester. Progress has been made at grant-maintained schools in areas of the country that one would not regard as wealthy, such as Small Heath school and Baverstock school in the middle of Birmingham. One must examine the views of parents who send their children to those grant-maintained schools.
I shall give a few examples. Mr. Sultan Mohamed, whose daughter turned down a place at one of the city's grammar schools to go to Small Heath school, said that the reason why Small Heath school gave a thorough education was that
the school belongs to the community. You automatically feel part of it. I like the home/school contract. It binds both parties into supporting each other.
Mrs. Pickerill, whose child goes to Baverstock school—the Labour party should listen to this—said:
I used to be for the council. But it doesn't work. I've come right round. We've only taken back what's ours by right. Now we've made something of the school, much more than they ever did.
As has been shown by the paranoid reaction of the Labour party to the Bill and grant-maintained schools, it is curious that Labour Members should object to a meeting that I have arranged in my constituency on 27 November merely to give information to schools and parents on which they will be able to ballot. Such paranoia is shown by various Labour-controlled local education authorities, which, in the guise of giving objective information to schools that want to think about opting out and balloting, give schools biased information. Birmingham education authority gave what it called essential information on grant-maintained status and opting out to parents of children at Hampstead Hall school. The information said:
No existing grant-maintained school has been able to demonstrate that opting out has improved or maintained the educational standard of the school.
What absolute bunkum. The authority need only examine the improvements that have been made in Baverstock school and Small Heath school in its city.
In the past four years, examination results have doubled at Baverstock school and trebled at Small Heath school. Truancy at Baverstock school is 0·04 per cent.; previously, it was appalling. Truancy at Small Heath school is only 1 per cent., which is considerably lower than the city average. In 1982, attendance at Baverstock school was 81 per cent. Under grant-maintained status, attendance is 95 per cent. at Baverstock school and 93 per cent. at Small Heath school. Under grant-maintained status, the number of staff at Baverstock school has increased by eight and a half and at Small Heath school by six. Baverstock school can now boast a sixth form of 92 pupils. Small Heath school has been able to reinstate its sixth form. Those statistics show the significant improvements that have been made in two inner-city schools that have changed to grant-maintained status.
I shall make some comments on other aspects of grant-maintained status. First, it is extremely important that the Education Assets Board makes a sensible decision about Great Barr school. If we are to encourage relationships among local education authorities, local authorities and, ultimately, grant-maintained schools, it is absolutely crucial that grant-maintained schools must not take assets with them in perpetuity.
Secondly, it is crucial for the Government to guarantee capital programmes for the schools that have achieved grant-maintained status. I have heard rumours in one of the major cities not too far from the west midlands that a deputy chairman of education has visited certain schools that are thinking of becoming grant-maintained and said that the new roofing programmes would go by the board if the schools did something so stupid as to go grant-maintained.
Thirdly, it is absolutely crucial to step head teacher training in not simply administration but management development at grant-maintained schools. I know that the Westminster college in Oxford and the community education development centre which is based in the west midlands are keen to help with such training.
Fourthly, it is vital that we move to a system whereby all parents, irrespective of how obtuse and prehistoric their education authorities are, have the opportunity to ballot regularly on the grant-maintained schools option. I shall certainly table amendments to the Bill to allow that to happen.
In the Bill, there are significant advantages in respect of statementing. In my own local authority of Hereford and Worcester, one girl was asked for a statement on 23 March 1991. She is dyslexic. A week ago, I heard from her mother, who said, "I regret that I'm no further forward with the LEA, who are still procrastinating." I hope that the special education procedures within the Bill will be amended so that time limits are laid down to ensure that local education authorities act expeditiously.
I welcome the parts of the Bill that relate to religious education and the ethos of schools. I should have liked the Bill to take up the measures suggested by the children's legal centre, putting into effect much of Lord Elton's report on discipline in schools. I shall table amendments to establish procedures to ascertain pupils' views on matters affecting them and to establish an accessible complaints procedure.
Apart from that, the Education Bill encourages choice—
The Government obviously intend effectively to eliminate local government powers over school education. The White Paper puts it explicitly, describing the Secretary of State's hope
that over time all schools will become grant-maintained".
Responsibility for such services as educational psychology, welfare and home-to-school transport will remain with the LEAs "for the time being" and it is anticipated that the private sector will step in to provide museums, the library service, peripatetic music teaching and the like. However, that massive and deeply significant removal of local government powers is to be carried out with what I can only describe as the illusion of parental consent. The White Paper states:
It is right that the route to GM status should remain the parental ballot.
In Wales, it is clear that if it were left to the volition of parents, the grant-maintained movement would never get off the ground. Unlike England, where about 300 schools have become, or are becoming, grant-maintained, in Wales there are only three. As has been established, two of those were set up as a result of the LEA's decision to close them in an attempt to deal with a Government-defined problem of surplus places.
If the Welsh Office's approval of those schools' applications had any logical basis, it was that the competitive environment—market forces—free of any regulation was more likely to solve the problem of surplus places than strategic planning by a body charged with that responsibility. That would be perfectly consistent with the Government's ideology. Yesterday an hon. Member citing the work of T. S. Eliot spoke of the beneficial effects of friction between schools. That was the authentic voice of Thatcherism—an ideology which still affects policy formation, after it has lost all intellectual conviction.
It is clear that leaving education to market forces is inconsistent with the provision of a comprehensive and just public education system. It would not work. Strategic decisions concerning the provision of places have to be taken and someone has to take them—some body has to take them. The White Paper and the Bill show that the Government clearly recognise that. The only serious remaining questions are, what decisions need to be taken by a body other than the schools, and what sort of creature should that body be?
The Government's answer is that it should be an unelected quango—the Schools Funding Council for Wales—rather than local education authorities. According to the Bill, the funding council will be able to assume that role partly when sufficient schools have opted for grant-maintained status and completely when 75 per cent. of pupils are educated in such schools. The key question is, how do the Government propose to shift from A to B and at the same time maintain the illusion of parental consent? There are two answers. First, they will seek to create a climate in which schools and parents perceive an inevitable and increasing momentum towards the break-up of the existing system and thus wish to be considered pioneering and abreast of the times, rather than dilatory. Secondly, they will undermine the will of local government to continue as strategically significant bodies and providers of support services.
The Government intend to reorganise local government in Wales so that, in 1995, there will be about 23 unitary multi-purpose authorities. They will be small and inexperienced compared with the county councils. Many will be run by a new generation of councillors. How much stomach will they have to assert their position as strategic bodies, knowing that the thrust of Government policy is to remove that function?
As soon as 10 per cent. of pupils are in grant-maintained schools, the national funding council will share the responsibility for securing sufficient places, being able to propose enlargement and changes in character in grant-maintained schools and the establishment of new schools. What will be the state of affairs in that twilight zone between two regimes? The Association of County Councils describe it thus:
The ACC believes that placing concurrent duties for providing sufficient school places on LEAs and the proposed FAS will be confusing and a recipe for costly duplication … The ACC is also concerned at the fragmentation of responsibility … which will led to a complex superstructure and the inevitable emergence of an extensive and costly regional bureaucracy over time.
At that stage, local councils will be free to divest themselves of their strategic role if they so desire, and they will no longer be statutorily obliged to establish an education committee.
In the confusion of joint responsibility, as services to schools are increasingly provided by the private sector, and knowing the Government's intentions, the pressure on councils to hand over responsibility to the funding council will be considerable. If they do so, and if they are no longer able to provide services to schools, what reason will any school have for not going for direct grant status? That is probably what the Government think will occur. I subscribe to the conspiracy theory, rather than the cock-up theory, although in the case of this Government there is no contradiction between the two.
One thing is sure, a central agency—even the agency in Wales—will not be able to deal properly with local issues and their infinite variety, so
the funding agency will need to be able to gather local information to perform some of its functions … will be able to set up regional offices as the number of grant-maintained schools grows.
I do not know what size the region served by the offices will be, nor, perhaps, does anyone, but it is clear that at some level there will be a regional and/or a local bureaucracy. The key difference will be that the bureaucracy will not be democratically accountable. The present bureaucratic procedure will be duplicated without democratic accountability.
The schools funding council for Wales will be accountable only to the Secretary of State for Wales. If anyone tells me that he is subject to democratic accountability, I must tell them that if democracy had its way in Wales any proposals to reform school education would be radically different from those in the Bill. It is worth bearing it in mind that the Secretary of State will have the power to bypass his own quango. If the funding agency does not set about the task of closing schools with a will, he will be able to propose such closures.
The loss of democratic accountability at the local level —the only level at which we have democratic accountability in Wales—is a desperately serious matter. The Welsh joint education committee believes
that the creation of more nominated, unelected bodies is a threat to the health of the democratic process in Wales.
It is as serious as that.
Let us consider the consequences. Democratic accountability breeds a tradition in public servants of responsiveness, sensitivity to public opinion, respect for the elected representatives of the people and courtesy towards people. For a time after its loss, the tradition, the attitude of mind, the habits, will survive, but with the loss of direct democratic control the erosion of that tradition will proceed apace. Among the results will be arrogance, insensitivity, corruption, inefficiency and an educational system that will serve best the needs of the influential and the powerful—
It has been of great interest to me to learn so much about Welsh education today and yesterday. It is also of great interest to me that the degree of comment on the Bill from the Opposition benches has been at the lower percentage end and there is an overwhelming feeling of ritual. I do not think that much has changed after 13 years. Indeed, I am reminded slightly of the Bourbons: they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak because I am conscious, that I come from a constituency in East Sussex which, as was mentioned yesterday, has no grant-maintained schools. I can understand why some teachers find it very difficult to leave the safe and cosy world of education and try to take on a more competitive edge. After all, they have left school, gone to college and gone back to school. I pay a tribute to East Sussex education authority and I would like to associate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) with these comments. It is a good local education authority. It was at the forefront in delegating budgets. It has always given a lot of authority to its head teachers.
The councillors of East Sussex maintain that they take a neutral stance on these issues. That translates, I sometimes think, into the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), that they should be fair and impartial.
I want to comment briefly on a memo that was sent by the county education officer to the schools in East Sussex just after the publication of the White Paper. Making a completely fair and impartial point, he said:
the White Paper is actually very encouraging to us in East Sussex… We still have everything to play for".
When schools indicate any interest whatsoever in going grant-maintained they get another letter from the county education officer. This includes comments such as:
the White Paper…shows for example that East Sussex secondary schools would receive around £300 less per pupil if they were funded at the level of the government's standard spending assessment, as is proposed…in the White Paper";
Governors might also have concerns about how admission levels will improve if you have to rely only on first preferences.
The letter goes on:
There has been no discussion with the authority as to our view of the advantages and disadvantages for
your school, and also says:
It seems to me odd, to put it no higher, that you consulted with a pressure group with no knowledge about your school and simply committed to opting out, but not with the authority which has been supporting you.
That is not a requirement at the stage that this school has reached.
It is therefore of great concern to Members in East Sussex that this impartial and fair education authority is perhaps not being as impartial and fair as it could. It stands behind the phrase "parental choice". I recently came across its definition of parental choice as it relates to enrolment. It includes pins and a rubber band on a map, and those of us who know anything about rubber bands know that they can extend, but not in East Sussex.
On the subject of special schools, we have one special school in Hastings which is in the maintained sector. It is responsible to Lambeth. Those of us who have any knowledge of the Lambeth education authority can only have sympathy for the school. Over the last few years the school's roll, which was full at 36 pupils, is now down to 19. Parents are not told that this school is available to them. With increasing evidence of further exclusions, plus, as so many hon. Members have said, statement procedures taking so long, it is clear that children who would benefit from attendance at residential special schools are falling through the net. This is particularly true of the school in Hastings and other residential special schools that Lambeth controls. Children are better reintegrated into the system having had the opportunity of education in these special schools.
I very much hope that, when the Bill is being considered, it will be made clear that parents will be fully informed of the options their children have of going to special schools, so that they can choose which way to go forward. It will also help the schools if they can go grant-maintained and sell their services. We welcome the independent tribunal, but we wish to see, either on the tribunal or able to give evidence to the tribunal, an expert who knows the child who is being considered personally.
There is also the issue of non-maintained special schools, of which there is one in Brighton for deaf children. There is a considerable worry that, yet again, parents are not given information about services available. Some local education authorities appear to think that these schools are infinitely more expensive than their own, which is palpably wrong. I should therefore be grateful if, in Committee, we can look at this situation to ensure that the high quality of education provided by these non-maintained special schools can be continued, and that parents clearly understand that they may use those schools if they think they are best for their children.
I also want to mention the problems of rural schools in which problems are encountered because the catchment area is not as large as it might be and rolls are not complete. This makes it very difficult to provide the education that one would wish, particularly in secondary schools. I know that schools can now extend their catchment areas to include more children, but it is a real problem that they do not necessarily have access to the number of pupils they need to be able to run the school as effectively and efficiently as they wish.
This is a very good Bill, which deals with quality and excellence in education that we as a Government have been pursuing in the last 13 years. I very much hope that, in Committee, we shall be able to deal with the issues that I have raised.
I preface my remarks by saying that it would perhaps have been a more healthy debate had the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), for whose views on education I have a great deal of respect, had been piloting this Bill through. We would then have had a much saner debate over the last two days.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman)—she is not present, so I am forced to be extremely polite about her—said that schools in Lancashire had had to opt out because they were starved of funds by Lancashire education authority, and added:
Schools in Lancashire will benefit enormously from the fact that, from now on, the Lancashire education authority's funds, which have been massively misdirected, will now go into those schools."—[Official Report, 9 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 648.]
According to Hansard, six secondary schools out of 110 have opted out of the Lancashire education system. Of those six, four have opted out in an undisguised attempt to preserve their grammar school status and to enhance their selection procedures and their desire for total selection. The fifth of those schools was in the aided sector and could not afford its share of a necessary £200,000-plus rebuild. The Government promised it that, if they opted out, they would get that money, but, having done so, they have received only half of it. They would have got that amount in any case.
Five other comprehensive secondary schools in the non-aided sector have held a ballot and decisively rejected the opt-out opportunity.
Secondary schools in Lancashire receive per capita funding in line with the national average. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy statistics show that Lancashire spends well above average on sixth form provision. Therefore, the grammar schools which I have mentioned have significant income advantages over other schools in the county.
I cite all that information not simply to score some points against the hon. Member for Lancaster, which is an easy thing to do, but to demonstrate that the hon. Lady, in common with the Conservative Government, operates by promulgating myths. Often, what the Government say bears no resemblance to any truth, even as shown in their own statistics. However, simply by reasserting over and over again that certain authorities are such-and-such or that such-and-such an activity is taking place in schools, the Government hope that, eventually, those myths will stick in the public mind—and perhaps they do.
The hon. Member for Lancaster referred to underfunding, but, out of a total budget of £300 million, Lancashire schools hold £23 million in their balances. They have been encouraged to do so by the local authority, of which I was until recently a member, because that local authority is wise enough to know that, as a result of the new dispensation, schools need to hold reserves and to gather funds for building and refurbishment projects. Therefore, the charge of underfunding is not true, either.
Why does the hon. Member for Lancaster make such claims about Lancashire? Simply because it has been led by Labour since 1981 and because a handful of Lancashire Tory Members—not all—have sought for years in this House to portray it as an extreme authority. They have attacked it with a million terminological inexactitudes and, over the past decade, have inflicted a great deal of damage on that county. However, their attacks have failed, because the people continue to return a Labour administration, largely on the basis of its education record.
Lancashire is typical of many local authorities of all colours and of none, because, over many years, it has developed a highly sensitive network, which depends largely on local knowledge and traditional relationships. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris) made a superb speech, which said it all. She highlighted the quality of local authorities and demonstrated that they were subject to smear after smear from central Government. Those smears are not confined to Labour authorities.
It is true that Labour local authorities and others have opposed the education legislation to which the Government have subjected them over the years, but the test is how those local authorities implement it in order to serve their people and to protect them from the absurdities in much of that legislation. It is okay for the Government to push through their 17 changes, but who has to implement them? Who has to institute the consultation, the phasing-in procedures, the guidance, the advice and support, particularly the support for the local management of schools? Who has to provide the governor support units, which, in my authority, have made many friends.
The vast burden of the many Tory changes to the education system has been shouldered by local authorities and schools, not by burgeoning ministerial bureaucracies in London, and certainly not by the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends. They will project this rag-bag of a Bill out into the world and leave it to fend for itself, and they will watch the system collapse into chaos.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State said that the Bill was about choice, but I must tell him that, in Lancashire, 95 per cent. of secondary school children and 98 per cent. of primary school are given their first choice of school. That is happening in an authority which has central administration costs of 3·7 per cent., while the central administration costs of its potential schools budget stand at 1·63 per cent. In Kent, those costs stand at 3·78 per cent.
I should like the Secretary of State to tell me whether there is anything in the Bill that suggests that that level of choice satisfaction will be maintained for parents in Lancashire, given the nonsensical creation of a two-tier system. I should also like him to tell me what private businesses or commercial enterprises, never mind opt-out schools, could operate on central administration costs of 3·7 per cent.
The drive towards grant-maintained status has been patently rejected by most schools, most boards of governors and most parents. It has nothing to do with education, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said, everything to do with a desire to emasculate local authorities and to centralise control. Imagine what would be said in the press and by Conservative Members if a Labour Government implemented such a centralising Bill.
The bribes have not succeeded, and now procedural and organisational changes must be made to make the process more weighted and slanted. Pressure is put not only on Labour authorities, such as Lancashire, but Conservative ones. The hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) mentioned East Sussex, and I am sure she is aware of the comments of Mr. Frank Keen, the chair of education in West Sussex, which has no opted-out schools:
I am a Conservative. We are a Conservative LEA and it gives me no joy to say that they"—
are using all sorts of immoral bribes to persuade schools to go with the dogma
Exactly so. One does not have to think any further about the implications of the Bill.
All that pressure would be understandable if the case for GMS had been proved. Perhaps all those schools are good, but where are the statistics and inspection reports to demonstrate that they are better than they were before they opted for GMS? The only evidence quoted by the Minister who opened the debate was a Mr. Adonis who said that the school he had visited was "smashing". Apparently Mr. Adonis is a Liberal—with a name like that perhaps he should be the leader of the Liberal party.
The consultation between publication of the White Paper and the Bill has been selective. My local authority and the regional branches of the teachers' unions have complained that their comments have not been heard.
I am glad of this opportunity to take part in the debate and to welcome the Bill. I thank the Government for giving two days to the subject, thus enabling more hon. Members to take part.
We have come a long way down the road of better education since 1979, and throughout those years the Government's principal objectives have been to enshrine in the education system the essential qualities of choice, diversity, accountability, greater responsibility for schools and, above all, higher standards.
The Education Reform Act 1988 created grant-maintained status, since when the spread of GM schools has moved to the heart of our education system. My right hon. Friend said yesterday that 340 schools had either applied for or been granted grant-maintained status, and I understand that about another 150 are in the pipeline.
When I made my maiden speech to the House in the summer, I referred to the outstanding success story of schools such as St. Augustine's in Trowbridge in my constituency. Grant-maintained status means more money, but that is not the whole story. Schools can at last have control over their total budgets, and freedom to spend and manage their affairs as they see fit. GM schools are popular with parents, as shown by the increased number of applications for places, and parental involvement is greater from the moment of the initial ballot. Above all, GM schools have freedom over and responsibility for their own destinies.
The Bill will streamline the process by which the next generation of GM schools will make that transition. The ballot procedure will be speeded up, and strict limits will be placed on the sums that can be spent by obstructive and destructive LEAs campaigning against schools balloting for GM status. Those measures should help to combat some of the scandalous extremes to which some local authorities will go in trying to block applications by spreading misinformation and, sadly, often by spreading threats.
I welcome the decision taken by my right hon. Friend last week to write to all LEAs reminding them of their responsibilities and legal rights. I hope that he will not hesitate to use the full force of his powers against any LEA which deliberately seeks to mislead or, worse still, to intimidate parents.
I urge the Minister to consider carefully an issue that I have raised with him—the ability of some local councils hostile to GM status to continue to influence adversely some schools, even after grant-maintained status has been granted. The most obvious area is that of planning.
Aloeric primary school in Melksham in my constituency received GM status last summer, but it was recently surprised when its annually renewed planning permission for mobile classrooms was refused for the first time in its 20-year history by the local Liberal Democrat-controlled planning authority. I am happy to say that the decision was subsequently overturned on appeal, but it has left a nasty taste and, I fear, bodes ill for the future.
A crucial cornerstone of the Bill is the funding agency that is to be established as a statutory body to take over funding responsibilities from the Department of Education. The agency will rightly be responsible for decisions such as the payment of grant and financial monitoring, while at the same time having increasing responsibility for the provision of sufficient school places.
A common concern expressed by LEAs and those opposed to the Bill—the matter was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton)—revolves around the transitional phase from overall LEA control t o financial control by the funding agency. I believe that the Government have the transitional period about right. With 10 per cent. of pupils taught in grant-maintained schools, responsibility will be shared. Once 75 per cent. are taught, the LEA will lose the power to determine local places.
LEAs will increasingly be encouraged to act as the provider of certain services. They will continue to control non-grant-maintained schools, school transport, educational welfare and, most important, special needs education.
Clause 244, by which LEAs will be allowed to continue selling services for two years after the funding agency takes over, is causing some controversy. The thinking behind the clause is sound. Total dependency on an LEA should be discouraged, as that is the whole point of opting out in the first place. A market should be encouraged and allowed to develop in the private sector to assume those responsibilities.
Given that the two-year period will not begin until the number of grant-maintained schools is so high that it puts control beyond the LEA, they should have time to develop to a degree where private companies can then draw on their expertise and even their personnel.
However, I have some sympathy with LEAs which will be prevented from selling what may be, even after the two-year period is up, the best and most competitive services. That could be a disadvantage to some grant-maintained schools, and I am concerned lest some schools think twice about applying for grant-maintained status because of that barrier.
I do not claim the expertise of some hon. Members of special needs teaching, and I read with interest the Official Report the two excellent speeches made in the debate yesterday by my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) and for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning). But I have long taken an interest in special needs education in my constituency and, like hon. Members in all parts of the House, I am proud to serve as President of my local Mencap branch.
I am also vice president of the mid-Wiltshire dyslexia group, and I am fortunate to have in my constituency an active branch of the excellent Portage project. Some hon. Members will be acquainted with that project, but I hope that many others will gradually become fully acquainted with it.
I particularly welcome the fact that, under the Bill, the assessment of children and their statementing will continue to be the responsibility of the LEAs. It is crucial that the obligation to identify and assess the need is strictly adhered to, so that all children have every opportunity.
I am concerned about the provision of special needs teaching. In Wiltshire, with Department of Education approval, the LEA has introduced a scheme for delegating money within the locally managed system formula to secondary schools for children with moderate learning difficulties. The Minister will know that that innovative scheme is much in line with the recommendations of the recent Audit Commission report, "Getting the Act Together".
But in spite of that scheme, the strains on Wiltshire's special needs budget remain severe. There are two central problems. I urge the Minister to consider the vague definition in the Education Act 1981 that a child has a learning difficulty if he
has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of his age.
That definition is repeated in the Bill. Demand is growing daily, as, understandably, parents become more aware of the problems and expect more from their LEAs. More pressure groups are being formed, especially in areas of moderate learning difficulty such as dyslexia, and there is increasing recourse to the law.
At the heart of the problem is the assumption in the 1981 Act—still prevalent today—that only 2 per cent. of all pupils need statementing. In Wiltshire, the true figure is now nearly 5 per cent., the highest in the south-west, up from an accurate figure in 1983 of 1·8 per cent., and it is rising constantly.
Our children have only one chance to obtain a good education. It is our duty in government to ensure that we guard that chance jealously, so that all children go on to become members of a better educated generation. We in west Wiltshire are fortunate. We have many excellent schools, grant-maintained and locally managed. We have dedicated teaching staff and increasingly experienced school governors prepared to give generously of their time. I pay tribute to them all. We have seen the merits of the education reforms of the last 13 years. I hope that many others will reap the benefits of the proposals in the Bill.
On 3 June I received a letter from the Secretary of State about grant-maintained status for schools. He informed me that at that time there were more than 260 approved GM schools in England and that the number was increasing rapidly. Yesterday he told the House that there were 340 and we were told today that it had increased to 342.
So in five months there have been 80 new GM schools. That reveals the reason for the Bill. It shows clearly that the measure is born out of the failure of the Conservatives to attract the number of GM schools that they anticipated. If we continue at the rate of 16 a month, which is 200 a year, it will take all four and a half years available to the Government—if they last an undeserved further four years or more—to achieve about 1,200 GM schools. That would give them just 5 per cent. of all schools. Clearly, the forecast level of 500 by the end of March puts the rate up to 320 a year, which is still below the Government's expectation. The Government have therefore changed the rules so that they can say that they expect, in the year from 1993–94, a further 1,000 schools to go grant maintained.
Grant-maintained schools are a disruption of the educational system for no good purpose. They are the antithesis of community because they make it impossible for neighbouring schools to share facilities and for schools to share their facilities with the wider community. They make extremely difficult the wider strategic planning framework in which education must prosper. It is essential that educational provision can be planned for all children in a particular area. If schools are taken out of the system and isolated, so that it becomes difficult to put the jigsaw back together, that is a form of disruption.
The Bill's funciton is to challenge local authority responsibility and to upset established structures. Naturally, that is not the stated aim, but it is the probable result of the Bill's enactment and implementation.
I am concerned about how the process is being pursued. Yesterday, the Secretary of State was pursuing it with unwarranted arrogance. The way in which he refused to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris) was unfortunate, given his earlier responses. But when he followed that by walking out when my hon. Friend spoke, it showed a degree of personal rudeness which, from a Secretary of State for Education, is an extremely bad example to young people watching how the House is considering the system by which they are educated.
I am also worried about the Government's intolerance and direction on this issue. Why is it that, when local authorities put forward their views on the Bill, they are accused of unfair propaganda and curbing measures are taken, yet when the Secretary of State does the same thing, there is no condemnation?
Next week, the Secretary of State has called a meeting for head teachers in the north of England at the Hilton hotel, Garforth, in my authority—the city of Leeds. He has not told Leeds education authority that he will be meeting in Leeds to discuss educational issues. When it found out about that and suggested that it might meet him, it received no response to the invitation. A headmaster in my constituency asked to go to that meeting, but was told that he could not because there was not sufficient room —the space was already full.
How much has the meeting in Leeds to do with the Secretary of State's undoubted disappointment that Leeds has no opted-out schools and has had no applications for opting out, and that there is not even a ballot in sight? The answers by the Under-Secretary of State for Education in today's Hansard show that 322 schools in Leeds are eligible to follow that procedure, yet none of them has.
A schools commission has been set up in Leeds. It is run independently from the authority by 20 people: five head teachers; five governors; five members of the city council —only two of whom are members of the controlling Labour group; the leader of the Conservative group; and the education spokesman of the Conservative group. Every school in Leeds belongs to that schools commission. It has already agreed a parental choice-led system and abolished catchment areas throughout the city. It has agreed plans for the reduction of 3,000 secondary places and 2,500 primary places, most of which will be in place by 1994. It has agreed the closure of certain schools that are educationally, socially or financially unviable. Furthermore, it is producing a plan for the entire area, which shows strategic direction for that authority, and its plans are for 91 per cent. of funding to be devolved.
Will not the Government congratulate the city of Leeds on bringing forward such a comprehensive plan, put together by head teachers, governors, members of the authority, a small group of external people who represent race relations interests in the city, and the Churches? That is a model of a system that seeks planning for the whole authority. My argument against grant-maintained status is that it disrupts the coherence of plans which, ultimately, can only be bad for many of those whom we represent.
Why are the Government so keen on subsidiarity when it means devolving powers from Europe to nation states, but have such a hostile view of subsidiarity when it means moving from central Government to local government? Why does the Secretary of State need 44 additional powers whereby he can give direction?
The Government are not doing that at all. The Secretary of State is taking powers to correct anything that he considers is going wrong in local decision-making.
I regret that the debate has focused entirely on structure and organisation rather than on what is really happening in education today—
This important Bill builds on the excellent reforms that we have put in place in recent years. We are already seeing some of the benefits of the introduction of a national curriculum and standard assessment tests, with improved GCSE results.
What has been depressing about the debate is that it is based on a Bill introduced after a White Paper called "Choice and Diversity". It is abundantly clear that the Opposition have no conception of choice and diversity. They believe in a system in which all schools are the same—children go to their local comprehensive or nowhere. The Conservative party believes in a rich diversity of provision.
I am pleased that my constituency contains a city technology college, and Croydon has another technology college for the performing arts. It has just been announced that Edenham high in my constituency is to become a grant-maintained school. I hope that in the borough of Croydon we will see a continued growth in the number of grant-maintained schools.
We wish to see a system with a variety of schools. I do not mind whether they are voluntary aided, grant-maintained, assisted places, grammar schools or whatever. We are not afraid of diversity; it is clear that Opposition Members are. Everything they have said has been about fear of change in education. As I listened to some of their statements about grant-maintained schools, I could well understand why too few schools in Labour-controlled areas have opted out because of the disinformation that is being spread.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) talked about grant-maintained schools being a process of centralised control. How can it be centralised control when those schools manage the totality of their own affairs without the interference of the local education authority?
The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) implied that the process of going grant-maintained was compulsory. What could be further from the truth when schools have to go through a democratic balloting process? The hon. Member for the City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) said that grant-maintained schools involved privatising the educational process. How can they involve privatisation when grant-maintained schools are state-funded schools which run locally?
The grant-maintained process is not privatisation: it is giving power to those who run the schools. It removes the dead hand of local education authority control where too many local education authorities interfere far too much in the running the schools. It is a logical extension of the very successful reform of local management of schools, whereby 85 per cent. of expenditure has to be devolved to the schools.
I welcome that extension. It is popular. Yes, it has been slow to take off in some areas because of the opposition of local education authorities. I was particularly grateful for the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) about some of the barriers to grant-maintained status that are put in the path of schools.
If I have any criticism of the Bill, it is that perhaps we need to go further in removing the barriers to schools becoming grant maintained. When the Bill goes into Committee, perhaps we should consider an annual ballot of parents, because the existing procedure, and even the procedure suggested in the Bill, is a recipe for not ensuring that enough schools at least have the opportunity to decide whether they wish to opt out. I should like to see such an improvement.
Turning briefly to the funding agency, given the growth in the number of grant-maintained schools, it is right to have a body that is responsible for the distribution of funds to the schools. It is very important that we severely circumscribe the role of the funding agencies so that they do not become surrogate local education authorities. I very much welcomed the comments of the Secretary of State yesterday when he made it clear that they would have a limited role.
Clearly the funding agencies should have a planning role in regard to the number of places in an area. Percentages are laid down in the Bill. My only plea on the percentages is that we should look carefully at the higher cut-off point for control to pass totally to the funding agencies. There is a case for arguing that that percentage should be lower to ensure a smoother transition to an improved regime of managing numbers in schools.
There is great doubt about the future role of local education authorities. I was pleased to be a member of an LEA for nearly 16 years. Many LEAs do a good job, but that is not true of all of them. That is one reason why I have very few qualms about taking some powers away from them. That is the quid pro quo for giving more control and power to the schools.
One important point, which I welcome very much, is that, apart from responsibility for school attendance, transport and the psychology service, LEAs will have a key role in special education. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), in an excellent speech last evening, outlined the real importance of special education. Many of us recognised that the Education Act 1981 was a landmark and a great step forward. Regrettably, there has been a tendency for too many LEAs not to implement that legislation properly by taking far too long to issue statements for pupils with needs. Even when they issued statements, they made them so meaningless as not to lead to the right provision for the children.
The report of the Audit Commission was particularly useful and relevant. I am delighted that most of the recommendations in the report have been included in the Bill. That is a great step forward, which will lead to improved special education.
I will not give way, because I have only 10 minutes.
The education system must respond to parental choice. While it is important to allow popular schools to expand, I welcome the proposal to deal with failing schools. For too long local education authorities have allowed schools that are not up to the job to continue to deliver third-rate education to the children. Even if there had been inspections by local inspectors, the schools had usually succeeded in making sure that the real difficulties went uncovered.
The Education (Schools) Act 1992 provided a firmer and stronger basis for inspection. The proposals in the Bill extend that by introducing a concept of educational associations. As has already been said, one difficulty is that youngsters have only one chance to get an education. We cannot afford to allow schools to continue to deliver third-rate education for too long.
Truth and reality in education are that a school depends very much on the quality of the head teacher, the leadership that is given and the quality of senior staff. It also depends crucially on the ethos of the school. Much research has shown that if a school has high expectations and the right ethos it will achieve high results.
I make a brief comment about surplus places; of course, it is right to take action to reduce some of the 1·5 million surplus places, but we must be careful not to reduce them too far. We need some surplus places to provide for parental choice.
In conclusion, the Bill builds on previous legislation—
Education Bills are a common occurrence under the Conservatives. I sometimes wonder if they have taken Labour's election slogan, "Time for a change", and made it the motto of the Department for Education. Sadly, it is change for change's sake. We have had city technology colleges, assisted places, the national curriculum, changes to the national curriculum and more changes to the national curriculum. All that has achieved is to make education an ideological playground. Now we have this Bill of 255 clauses and 17 schedules, with no doubt many more to come before the end of the Committee stage. The sum total of that is to increase the sum total of the powers of the Secretary of State for Education.
It is not only the Opposition who believe that the Bill is a centralising measure. No less a journal than The Times, hardly the most left-wing of papers, said in a headline on the day after the White Paper that preceded the Bill was published: "Ministers to seize control of education." So The Times knows the real purpose of the Bill. So do hon. Members and so, I suspect, do parents.
The Government are committed to privatisation, yet the Bill is as important an act of nationalisation as anything in the 1945 to 1950 Parliament. The Government profess the virtues of subsidiarity to our European partners; yet the Bill vests power not in the lowest tier of authority but at the highest level, with the Secretary of State. The proposed funding council will be non-elected and unaccountable. I fear that it will be underfunded, like many other bodies for which the Government are responsible.
Parents do not welcome the Bill. They know the truth about the education system, although the Government try to hide it—they know, because unlike most Ministers, they send their children to schools in the public education system.
One of the central tenets of the Bill is the idea of increasing the number of grant-maintained schools, which have been a disastrous flop. Only about 300 schools have opted out, despite the financial incentives to do so. Now we see the pathetic spectacle of the Secretary of State for Education sending out begging letters to the head teachers in every school in England, pleading with them to opt out. The head teacher in my constituency who gave me his copy of the letter told me that he did not need it any more: head teachers get enough junk mail offering them newfangled designs which are of no use to school children.
I shall try to speak about special educational needs in the non-partisan spirit that the Minister advocated earlier. I welcome the powers in the Bill to tell GM schools to accept excluded children and to name GM schools in school attendance orders. Those are both constructive ideas. The problem is that they are bright spots in an otherwise gloomy Bill. More than anything else, this is a bill of missed opportunities in special education. It fails to answer the central question of who is responsible overall for special education.
The Bill makes it clear that LEAs are responsible for statements and statemented children, but it does not make clear who is responsible for special educational needs overall. As far back as the Warnock report, the Government have always accepted the estimate that about one fifth of pupils will require extra help with special needs at some point in their school careers, but only 2 per cent. of children will require statements. I hope that the Minister will tell us who is responsible for the other 18 per cent. of children who may need help at some point but who do not warrant a statement.
A great deal of work is done by educational psychologists with this larger group of 18 per cent. In particular, they work with children who have emotional or behavioural difficulties—difficulties not mentioned in the Bill. Unless all 20 per cent. are covered by legislation, they will not be protected. They should all be included in the Bill to ensure that LEAs and psychologists can continue to protect and enhance the education of children in the wider group.
Why are no incentives offered to schools to take children with special needs but who may not be statemented? Some schools will not take children with behavioural difficulties because they believe that they might affect truancy rates, which will then be published. Some schools will not take children with learning difficulties because they think that they may affect their published examination results. We must offer incentives to schools to take non-statemented children with special needs.
Why does the Bill place no duty on agencies such as social work and health departments and LEAs to work together? Such duties were given in the Children Act 1989. We have heard a great deal about delays in the statementing process. They are not always the fault of the LEA; they could be the fault of the social services department or the health authority. If the Bill placed a duty on all those agencies to work together, we could cut some of the delays. Some of the most vulnerable children are those who are most likely to have special needs arid to need help from these agencies.
Why do the Government provide no target for the training of educational welfare officers to ensure that they become qualified social workers? I have the impression that the Government think that truancy can be solved by nabbing the truants. That simplistic approach helps no one —the problem is more complex than that. It would be much more sensible of the Government to invest in training educational welfare officers and ensuring that they were qualified. In the end, truancy is more likely to be a symptom than the root problem. Hence we need to deal with it in a skilled and professional way.
Why has one of the central thrusts of the Children Act been ignored in the Bill? I refer to the right of a child to be consulted about its own future. This would be an ideal opportunity to bring special needs policies in line with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, article 12 of which states:
Children's views should be considered on all matters and administrative proceedings relating to them.
We live in a society in which a child can take legal proceedings to divorce itself from its parents, yet children cannot have a say in deciding whether to agree to be assessed or in the sort of educational provision that would be best for them.
The Bill gives the Secretary of State 44 new powers, but it gives no new powers or rights to children. It reflects the long-term tendency of Ministers to take away powers from local people and elected local authorities and to give them to Ministers and their civil servants.
The Bill will fail to arrest declining standards in public sector education. It will fail to restore public confidence in the public education system. Worst of all, the Bill will fail to protect the most vulnerable children, those with special needs, and that is disgraceful.
We now spend less on education as a proportion of our national wealth than we did 13 years ago under a Labour Government. That is the root cause of the crisis in our schools. Nationalisation, centralisation, or however Ministers dress up this measure, it will not improve the education of a single child.
The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) referred to an editorial in The Times, but as he said, it appeared the day after the launch of the White Paper, when the Times staff had not had time yet to read it. Once they had read it, they changed their tune.
This is not a measure of nationalisation. As far as possible in a state-funded system, the Government are creating semi-independent schools with a large degree of autonomy.
I should like to offer the Bill a positive welcome. I hope that it will not be too long before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State introduces another Bill, this time to abolish the student unions' closed shop. It is high time the Government allowed students the freedom to decide whether to belong to a student union—or to the National Union of Students. I look forward to the day when my right hon. Friend presents that legislation. I take it from the fact that he is nodding that he intends to do exactly that.
I welcome the measures in the Bill to reduce the incidence of truancy, and I am sure that making parents more responsible for their children's attendance at school is the right approach.
I support the Secretary of State's additional power to intervene where individual schools are not properly providing education for their children. I welcome the way in which the Government are encouraging schools to specialise. However, such specialisation should not, and I am sure will not, in any way detract from the delivery of the national curriculum.
I particularly welcome the general thrust of the Bill. It is designed to encourage diversity among schools, to extend parental choice and to channel resources away from administration into education.
However, if I have one criticism of the Bill, it is that it is simply not radical enough. It does not go far enough. If the Government believe that grant-maintained schools are the most effective way of maximising educational opportunities for our children, we should bite the bullet and legislate so that all secondary schools become grant-maintained by a certain time—perhaps by the end of 1994 or the end of 1995. We should thereafter be looking to extend grant-maintained status to all primary schools.
I have no doubt that grant-maintained schools provide a better quality of education, because they introduce real competition into our education system. We should not be ashamed of that. We should be shouting it from the rooftops. Competition is good in every other sector of life and it will be good in education. Competition drives up standards. Competition between schools would force schools to deliver what parents want for their children, not what the schools think those children should have. Competition between schools forces head teachers and their staff to ensure that academic standards are high, that extra-curricular activities are available and varied and that there is proper discipline and a proper spiritual and moral culture within the school.
That is what parents want. Where there is true competition and choice, parents will choose those schools which provide the highest standards. In a competitive environment, some schools will decide to specialise and that will increase choice. Therfore, the Government should go further than the Bill allows and ensure that all parents have access to a grant-maintained school for their children.
As Conservative Members know, that is complete anathema to the education establishment. It believes that competition is vulgar. Head teachers talk about the need for their schools to "co-operate", whatever that means. It really means that they do not have to compete. Some teachers become governors at other schools in order to block those schools taking on grant-maintained status. Local education authority administrators do everything in their power to maintain their power over local schools. The teachers' unions argue for the status quo. It is not surprising, therefore, that many parents feel somewhat overawed in the face of the conspiracy against grant-maintained status by the education mafia.
I am sorry to say that the combination that makes up the education establishment is clearly present in and around my constituency. I regret that no schools in my constituency have taken on grant-maintained status. I hope that they will and that the Government will act to ensure that all those secondary schools do become grant-maintained, so that parents in my constituency can enjoy the benefits of grant-maintained status—high standards, more choice, more diversity and greater discipline in schools.
Moreover, teachers and head teachers would benefit from having more control over the running of their schools. No longer would they have to respond to the dictates of the LEA. They would feel that they had a real stake in the schools in which they were working.
In a slightly less controversial vein, I come to special education. When I intervened earlier on my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, he gave me some reassurance on the point that I now want to touch on. We should be careful how far we push the drive for the integration of children with special educational needs into mainstream schools. That is the direction in which, dare I say, the education establishment, as well as my right hon. and hon. Friends, are going.
It is true. The hon. Gentleman clearly disagrees, and I accept that, but the accepted wisdom is that it is better for children to be integrated into mainstream education. However, there are times when a child will lose as a result of such integration, perhaps because he or she cannot cope with a new environment or because the mainstream schools simply cannot deliver the sort of special education that the children need.
When my local council, Kirklees council, issued a document last year to force through integration at a far greater pace, many parents expressed concern and opposition to the plans. I have a number of special schools in my constituency, and my experience is that they have achieved remarkable results in drawing out the full potential of individual children with special needs.
One of those schools, Royd Edge school in Meltham, is being forced by Kirklees council to become a day school as opposed to a residential school, much against the wishes of many parents. I therefore voice that note of caution, which I hope my right hon. and hon. Friends will take on board.
My second concern relates to independent and non-maintained special schools. Concerns have been voiced to me by a friend who is a governor of Chailey Heritage school in Sussex, and also by the headmaster of Holly Bank school near Mirfield, just outside my constituency.
I have visited Holly Bank several times, and I know that it provides a wonderful service for many children with severe disabilities. I think that I am right in saying that there was no mention of those schools in the White Paper. There is a real concern that LEAs will simply stop using the services of such schools if the LEAs suffer a financial penalty, and there is certainly concern that they will suffer a financial penalty. I hope that my hon. Friend will address that point when he replies.
The Conservative party is the only party with any radical ideas about how to improve Britain's education system. The Labour party is interested only in protecting vested interests—the teachers' unions and local education authorities. Labour's hostility to grant-maintained schools is a disgrace. The Labour party remains wedded to the outdated and discredited notion of equality, where the lowest common denominator is dominant.
It is the Conservative Government who are forcing through changes to improve Britain's education system. We believe in diversity, choice and high standards, and I am delighted to lend my support to a Bill which will provide all those things.
The Education Act 1944 was an inspiration to teachers who felt that it was an opportunity to raise standards and to increase advantage and possibility for children. It was a real opportunity for educational reform.
The so-called reforms of the Government have the opposite effect. They have demoralised rather than inspired teachers. Local management of schools, based on the average teacher's salary, threatens the most experienced and valuable teachers in schools. Primary school teachers have been forced to put their children through the hoops of standard assessment tests. Classes are getting larger, and the lack of money for supply teachers means that classes have to be split up when teachers are away. All those things, coupled with the increased proportion of administrative work to teaching time, are demoralising teachers.
The White Paper fails to recognise that teachers are the linchpin of the education system. It says that parents are the experts, and I am not denigrating the expertise of parents, but I do not like the expertise of teachers to be brushed aside as of no importance.
Although the White Paper concentrates on the role of parents, it fails to deal with their concerns. My advice surgery, like those of some of my hon. Friends, has revealed those concerns very clearly. One that arises again and again is the need for parents and children to benefit from the provision of nursery education, but the White Paper says nothing about that.
The same applies to discretionary grants for students; to clothing grants for parents on low incomes; to adult education, which is being whittled down to nothing, while LEAs are left short of money and forced to cut all provision except that which is a statutory obligation; and to schools for children with special educational needs. Parents fear that good schools for children in that latter class are closing down, and that the money and expertise are not being invested in mainstream classes.
If anything can be said to be of paramount importance in education, it is the need for stability. Since the Government began to introduce education Bills, however, instability has become chronic in London. First we saw the wanton destruction the Inner London Education Authority—a much maligned organisation which provided a good standard of education in the inner city, against dreadful odds. It pioneered research into education, and the philosophy of education, and it raised the cultural level in many spheres. I remember the last concert that it organised in the Albert hall: children and adults from every ILEA area gave a brilliant performance, and I was reduced to tears by the thought that it would all be destroyed—along with the other avantages provided by a unitary authority, in art, drama and other spheres.
The local education authorities then took over in London. They tried to establish new methods, depending very much on the old ILEA divisional offices but trying to build up the schools. They were then faced with the problems posed by local management of schools. Now we have opt-outs and funding agencies. As the Government exert pressure on schools to opt out, the LEAs will be given less money and less control over planning. That is a recipe for turmoil and chaos.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) in the Chamber. He intervened to mention Hendon school, which he presented as a shining example of grant-maintained status which has now increased its numbers. The hon. Gentleman, however, did not tell the whole story. Barnet borough council—a Conservative body if there ever was one—tried to do away with its surplus places by amalgamating Hendon school, which was formerly a grammer school in a middle-class area, with Whitefields, formerly a secondary school on a council estate.
Whitefields was on the larger site; it had the more modern building and the better facilities. Hendon school parents, however, did not want their children to go to Whitefields—not on your nelly. They fought it, and they were allowed to opt out. Their grant is at the expense of Whitefields'.
The hon. Gentleman has had his chance.
As a result, the disadvantaged children on the council estate have been further disadvantaged. I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman raised the matter; I might not have thought of it otherwise.
No, I will not give way. I have waited for two days to speak for 10 minutes, and I think that it is unreasonable to expect me to give way now.
All the organisations that have written to me are worried about what the Bill will do for children with special educational needs. Mencap asks this about the funding agency:
How can a system operate coherently and efficiently if one -body retains responsibility for children with special needs"—
the LEAs, that is—
while another body is responsible for funding the schools which provide the education?
That puts it in a nutshell.
So-called reforms—I cannot mention the Government's reforms without putting them, as it were, in quotation marks—such as the publication of league tables will disadvantage children with special needs who have not been statemented, and children who are learning English as a second language. Grant-maintained schools that want a high position on the league tables will be reluctant to take such children, although they may give other reasons.
Many hon. Members have pointed out that children have only one chance in the education system, and that a single experiment can affect their whole lives. The Government should have been more prudent: they should have waited to see how the funding agency worked in higher education before establishing a similar agency for schools. Given that if only 10 per cent. of schools were to transfer to grant-maintained status, the Government should have devoted much more serious thought to the process. They should have worked out what would happen when a conflict arose over plans.
For instance, an LEA might feel that a sixth form school should be set up rather than a primary school, or vice versa, and the funding agency think the reverse. It would have been more prudent to arrange pilot schemes at an earlier stage of the so-called reforms for SATs and all the other alterations. The Government's chopping and changing has driven teachers to distraction: they have been completely demoralised by the way in which policy has been made on the hoof.
The Secretary of State said a good deal about democracy. He said that helping, forcing or persuading schools to become grant-maintained would give parents more of a say. I think that that diminishes democracy. It takes control from elected bodies on which parents can have some influence—by voting, demonstrating or going to see their councillors—and centralises it, giving the Secretary of State more and more powers. He himself says that the Bill gives him 44 new powers.
If the Secretary of State wants to give more power to parents and the community, why does the Bill not mention the representation of teachers, parents and the local community on the funding agency and the education associations? Real power—control over funds, sackings and other changes—will be in the hands of appointed quangos that are directly responsible to the Secretary of State.
The Bill takes another step towards the introduction of the market in the education system. Teams of inspectors have already been set up, to price the job and establish what profits can be made. Next will come the establishment of education associations. Recently, I spoke to a dedicated teacher whom I have known for some years. Every year, he takes a group of children over to France on the exchange system, and in the past he has always been able to discuss the arrangements with an LEA adviser. Now the school at which he works has become grant-maintained, and he has realised with a shock that, if he wants advice, the school will have to pay a fee. That has upset him very much, and he does not feel too good about the changes in the system.
I am not easily shocked, but I was shocked by what I was told by an American I met recently. He is a nice man. He told me that, following his retirement, he had become very involved with a residential school for mentally handicapped children. Originally, he had been a volunteer, but he had become so involved that he was now employed by the school. When I asked him what he did, he said that he was an investment agent or broker: he persuaded people to take shares in the school. I was shocked. I asked, "How can people take shares and profit out of"—
One of the most surprising aspects of yesterday's and today's debates is the fact that Opposition Members clearly do not believe in diversity. They also oppose parental choice, and they have not even dealt with the whole issue of standards. Yet those are the very matters which are important to parents and children. I join other Conservative Members in welcoming the Bill, which builds on the Education Reform Act 1988 and will continue to promote parental choice and high standards.
Let me declare my personal interests in the Bill. I have two young children who will be affected by it, and until the end of last year I was the governor of a large comprehensive school—one of the first in the area to have a delegated budget. For the past five years, until the spring, I was a councillor and a member of a local education authority. That was Sheffield city council, a Labour-dominated local authority.
I know from personal experience there just how undemocratic and unresponsive to the needs of parents and children that local education authority was. I witnessed too often the wishes of parents and governing bodies being overruled, not for financial reasons but simply in order to preserve a set of ideas held by a handful of councillors elected on a low poll—ideas which had little to do with the good education of children.
I do not condemn all education authorities, because of that experience, but I know where I place my trust for good education—with the parents, the governors, the teachers and the school communities. That is how to deliver locally a good education service. However good a local education authority may be, it will seldom be able to plan well for the needs of an individual institution or school, yet it is to a particular school that parents look to give a good education to their children. If a school is to meet the needs of the children and the community that it serves, it is far more likely to be able to do so if it controls its own affairs—that is, if it is a grant-maintained school.
Sadly, Sheffield's education authority campaigned against grant-maintained status. It tried hard to dissuade parents with children at one school from voting in favour of becoming grant maintained. Although just one school was considering making an application for grant-maintained status, the education authority sent a leaflet to every household in the city and tried to dissuade them from voting in favour of grant-maintained status. I saw at first hand the overt and covert hostility of that campaign.
I welcome the proposals that are directed towards limiting the amount of money that education authorities can spend on publishing information on grant-maintained status. I welcome, too, the strong stance that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has taken regarding the content of that information. One has to take into account also the innuendos—the drip feed of half-truths that happens all too often.
When the White Paper was published an article appeared in a local newspaper that relayed the contents of a report to the Derbyshire education authority. The article said:
Education experts have warned Derbyshire schools not to opt out—because they are so well off under education authority control.
If you believe that, you will believe anything. The article continued:
And last year Derbyshire spent 15 per cent. above its SSA on education—the highest overspend of any education authority outside London.
Not surprisingly, the education system—or chair as they are still called up there—was in favour of the report, but a report such as that is designed to deter, worry and put schools off considering grant-maintained status. That worry was greatly reduced when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education announced that schools would not become worse off by seeking grant-maintained status. He confirmed that in his speech yesterday.
It is worth looking more closely at some of the assumptions that are made regarding SSAs. Some of them have been referred to by Opposition Members. It is often erroneously believed that, if an authority spends over its SSA on education, that money goes into the schools. A recent investigation by schools, including those in my constituency, showed that, at best, only between 2 and 3 per cent. of the 15 per cent. overspend of Derbyshire education authority arrived in the schools. A further investigation by the same schools showed a massive difference between the funding of one school compared with another.
I draw the attention of hon. Members to the words used by one school about that investigation. It said:
Despite our outstanding success, we are the poor relations under local education authority control.
Not surprisingly, therefore, more schools, even in Labour-controlled Derbyshire, are seeking grant-maintained status.
To take the matter a little further, since we have heard so much about a handful of pressure groups, about the theoreticians and the attitude of remote local education authorities, may I commend to hon. Members the views of a school that is seeking grant-maintained status. It said that a yes to grant-maintained status would give it greater autonomy and financial control, the ability to implement plans, the ability to plan its maintenance schedules and to do it on an accurate cost prediction. It said that it would also give it the ability to manage. The school would be managed directly by the local community, through the governing body. Those are the issues that are important to education and to standards in schools.
It is sad that there has been so much fudge and mixture of fact and fiction that is so often used by those whose principal objection to schools seeking grant-maintained status is that it will reduce their own personal power base. I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that only one resolution by a governing body will be necessary before parents are consulted on grant-maintained status. However, to revert to Derbyshire county council, it has ensured that there are no Conservative governors in local education authority schools. When Erewash borough council became Labour-controlled last year, it did the same. Such acts show the unpleasant aspect of unwarranted intervention.
The consequence for schools is that they have lost the benefit of many experienced governors. In addition, it has led to political blockage on the governing body regarding grant-maintained status. If a governing body does not even consider grant-maintained status, it denies choice to the parents. Whether to apply for grant-maintained status is still a matter for the parents, but that choice has been denied to them.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) in asking that consideration should be given to promoting further the rights of parents and to ensuring that the governing bodies of every eligible school consider grant-maintained status each year.
The local government review will have an impact on my authority, as it is one of those in the first wave of the review. Derbyshire county council is unlikely to continue in its present form. Few, if any, will mourn its passing. The local education authority will also cease to exist in its present form. Even fewer tears will be shed about that. Nine district authorities are making bids for unitary status. That may be the final shape of the education authority's area, but the number may be fewer than nine. Smaller unitary authorities mean that services are brought closer to the people. In the changing circumstances, however, there is a particular need to ensure that education money goes into the schools to benefit the children of my constituents and others in the county, rather than towards rebuilding a series of smaller versions of the local education authority which will soon cease to exist.
At some point between the announcement of the outcome of the review and its implementation, I hope that, in the best interests of the education of children in the area, it will be possible for all eligible schools to consult the parents on whether to seek grant-maintained status.
High standards are important to parents. The drive towards higher standards is the theme which runs throughout the Government's education programme. I have not yet heard Opposition Members talk about standards, yet it is good standards which make schools popular with parents—
I am tempted to make the speech that I wanted to make, which would have taken far longer than 10 minutes, but I know that a number of hon. Members want to speak in the debate and I shall therefore exercise self-discipline.
Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a rare occasion for two former chairs of the Council of Local Education Authorities to speak in the same debate in this Chamber. I follow the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), who spoke earlier. I hope during my speech to reflect on my experience as the chair of the Council of Local Education Authorities.
There can probably be no greater condemnation of 13 years of failure by the Conservative Government than the fact that, in the past two days we have had to consider the 17th measure affecting education. The previous 16 have failed our children, as will the 17th. We have had a period of constant change, of experiments and of gimmicks in our schools, with our children acting as the guinea pigs.
It has been a period of permanent revolution of which a Maoist would be proud, yet our education system is not meeting the needs and demands of the 1990s. In The Sunday Telegraph, David Sainsbury, chairman of Sainsbury, said:
For the top 10 per cent. of people education in this country is superb.
But the Government have plans.
For the bottom 40 per cent. the system is appalling.
I agree with that. Unfortunately, the Bill fails to address the underlying weaknesses of our education service. If enacted, it will make matters worse. It will result in the creation of an education underclass of disappointed and disillusioned parents, bitter and rejected children and failing and blighted schools. That is the Government's vision of education into the 21st century.
Although the Secretary of State calls the Bill a landmark piece of legislation, he will not take it into Committee; he has handed it to his Under-Secretary.
The great failing, which is not mentioned in the Bill, is the chronic under-investment in education. The White Paper and the Bill make it clear that there will be no new money for education. Correction: there will be some new money, not for education but to fund bureaucrats in the funding agency. We need the resources.
The Government's record in the past 12 or 13 years shows that the increase in education spending is lower than the average for other areas of Government spending. Had the same percentage of total Government spending on education in 1991 matched that of 1980, education would have had an extra £1·5 billion. Local education authorities in England and Wales calculate that there is a £4 billion backlog of capital works to school buildings. The Educational Publishers Council says that the lack of investment in books is now at crisis levels. The Department for Education's evidence to the school teachers' pay review was that between 1990 and 1991—just one year—the number of qualified teachers in England fell by 4,287, with obvious consequences. In England, the pupil: teacher ratio worsened from 16.94:1 in 1990 to 17.22:1 in 1991—the first time that the ratio had worsened in England since 1964. What a catalogue, which condemns the Government and the priority that they attach to education.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) challenged Ministers—it is a challenge that they need to take up—about the funding of grant maintained schools, especially in local education authorities that spend above their education standard spending assessment. When the Secretary of State launched the White Paper, he said that he would base his common funding formula on the Government assumption of what should be spent on education—the standard spending assessment. He used Birmingham as an example. We heard much about Birmingham yesterday. Indeed, I thought at one stage that we were debating the Education (Birmingham) Bill. At least today's debate has managed to move to some of the other 115 local education authorities in England and Wales.
Ministers must make it clear what the funding arrangements will be, because there are 65 local education authorities spending more than £500 million above their standard spending assessment on education. Perhaps there will be good news in the autumn statement on Thursday and we shall be told that education will have a real increase of £500 million, but I doubt it. Without it, the message is clear to schools thinking of applying for grant-maintained status: extra annual resources will not be available, and the Government's silence on the issue speaks volumes.
The philosophy underlying the Bill follows the philosophy that underlay the Education Reform Act 1988. The Government say that the Bill's purpose is to bring the discipline of the marketplace into the schools sector. I should have thought, given what the market did to the nation's economy on 16 September, black Wednesday, that we would have learnt the lesson that the market does not have the interests of the nation at its heart, yet our schools are to be subject to it.
We are told that grant-maintained status is the mechanism that will raise standards and offer parental choice. Let us look at the facts. We have heard about Labour local authorities blocking, and being obstructive in, ballots to opt out. That does not explain why the local education authorities in North Yorkshire, East and West Sussex and Suffolk—all Conservative-controlled—do not have a single grant-maintained school in their areas. There is a better, clearer reason why schools opt out of local authority control. There is a common thread running through those local education authorities—they are Conservative-controlled and spend very little on educating their children.
The hon. Member says, "Nonsense." I do not want to confuse his prejudice by giving him some facts, but Lincolnshire, which has the third largest number of opted-out schools—23—and is Conservative controlled is 101st out of 108 local education authorities in spending per pupil. Conservative-controlled Kent has the highest number of opted-out schools—35. Where does it rank out of the 108 local education authorities on spending per pupil? Conservative Members are keen on league tables. Kent comes 108th.
I should like to do so, but I am under a time constraint.
The message is clear: opting out has been given a massive vote of no confidence by parents in Conservative-controlled, low-spending local education authorities.
The other thread that runs through the Bill is the centralisation of our education service. There is no doubt that the Bill promotes the most dramatic extension of Whitehall power that we have seen since the war. The funding agencies, unelected and unaccountable, will have wide-ranging powers to determine the amount of places that schools will make available within a local authority area and the grants that might be made available to grant-maintained schools. Already, parents up and down the country are being denied choice: they cannot select the school to which they want their children to go.
There is a paradox at the heart of the Bill: on the one hand, the Government want to take out surplus places; on the other, they want to extend parental choice. How can we reconcile the removal of 1·5 million surplus places with the extension of parental choice?
The Bill will lead to the merger of the National Curriculum Council and SEAC—the Schools Examinations and Assessment Council. Both examinations and curriculum will be controlled by 10 to 15 people appointed by the Secretary of State. I am deeply concerned at the notion of such political control, not just over what is taught in the classroom but over how it is examined and assessed. The Secretary of State has already determined that Shakespeare must be taught to all 14-year-olds—and not just Shakespeare in general but "Romeo and Juliet", "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Julius Caesar" in particular. Why have those three been chosen? Given the problems in the Conservative party at the moment, I can understand why a play about the death of a leader may be appropriate. But one might make other suggestions. Given our debate last Wednesday, might not it have been appropriate to include "Much Ado About Nothing", for example?
At the beginning of the White Paper, there is a quote from John Ruskin's preface to "Unto this Last". If the Secretary of State had read on, he would have come to what I believe is a better quotation on the basis of which to direct our education service:
Government and co-operation are in all things the laws of life; anarchy and competition the laws of death.
I agree with that.
There is a powerful case for the reform of our education system, but that reform should be carried out on the basis of consensus rather than competition and of partnership rather than patronage. We need an education system that values all our children. What the Bill does is to turn the clock back to the dark days of selection. All it offers the children of our country is a future made up of all our yesterdays. It fails our children, and that is why we will oppose it both in the House and outside.
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) referred to last week's shenanigans. Last week, I was unable to support the Government, so I am delighted to be able to speak tonight in full support —or, at least, broad support—of a Government measure which will extend diversity and choice for many British children, British parents and British schools without reference to any Europeans.
During yesterday's debate, reference was made to the schools to which Conservative Members send their children. I should like to place on the record the fact that I have four children, three of whom are at local authority schools and one of whom has yet to reach school age.
To promote higher standards, it has been necessary to give attention to structures and organisations within and around schools, and I think that ever fewer people now maintain serious objections to such planks in our structure as local management of schools. We find example after example of extra teachers taken on on a part-time or full-time basis, of repairs, alterations and building improvements carried out and of curriculum developments that were not possible—not even dreamed possible —before LMS.
Equally, with the national curriculum, and testing to make it effective, new frontiers have been opened. There are still residual doubts about the wisdom of testing at age seven, often because summer-term birthday children have spent only a short time at school by the time they reach that age. But good schools were monitoring seven-year-olds in any event and I feel sure that, given that most children enjoy the testing anyway, the remaining doubts will disappear as the years go by.
When I visit schools, I often wish that those who, because they have no children or because their children are no longer of the relevant age, have no direct contact with primary teaching as it now is, could see the basic spelling, reading groundwork and number work that go on. The best schools always did it; now all schools should do it. When the present generation of primary schoolchildren reaches the jobs market in a few years' time, we shall all notice the difference in their numeracy and literacy.
The hon. Member for Wallsend mentioned my local authority of Suffolk where, with the exception of the Church schools, we have a three-tier system, with schools for children aged five to nine, nine to 13 and 13-plus. That means that the high schools are testing key stage three children of 14 on their middle school work. That forces better and closer public co-operation with the feeder middle schools, but the incompatibility of the key stage ages with our school ages needs to be borne in mind when judgments are made on high schools in league tables. I have visited schools in my constituency that have piloted testing and have talked to staff and pupils who have experienced tests. On science alone, I have a whole page full of detailed concerns and will bring those objections and worries with me to the Standing Committee.
I want to mention detail, because that will allow me to welcome the formation of the new school curriculum and assessment authority. That should sort out the overlap and examine teacher work loads, especially on the adminstrative side, as well as bringing a much-needed new coherence to testing and exams.
Perhaps even more important, I hope that the new authority will consider the impact of testing on the delivery of the national curriculum. We are talking of a large number of school teaching days effectively wiped out so that tests can be conducted. We must strike a balance between testing and teaching and set both in the context of a limited school day and of the amount of work with which both teachers and pupils can cope.
All Conservative Members give high priority to individual choice. That is why I no longer accept the view of many of my hon. Friends, who want instant, compulsory self-governing status for all schools. Parental and school community choice, with good example, good practice and good work the only pressures, should be the driving force. A comparison could be made with the employment law reforms since 1979. My predecessor, Lord Prior, always maintained that, if one takes one step at a time, it sticks because it works. He was labelled "Pussyfoot Prior" for that, but in that at least he was right.
Let me add a rider to those remarks. In rural areas, and even in some large town areas, choice in schools is a phrase to which we may give lip service, but it is contradicted by reality. A family without transport or with limited transport in a rural area has no choice of school—any more than they have a choice of doctor's surgery, church, shops or pub.
The clustering of schools suggested in the Bill will be an excellent means of bridging some of the gulfs that will always exist in rural areas. The idea of having one governing body, one head and a shared bursar may well be a helpful step on from the co-operation and the sharing of specialist teachers that we already have in some areas.
What of the concept of squeezing out surplus places? Of course they are a drain on resources and some hard bullets have to be bitten, especially in rural areas. Let us be sure, however, that all apparently surplus places are, indeed, surplus. To my mind, a small teaching area between two or more classrooms in primary and middle schools may, technically, be surplus to requirements, but, in practice, it is a valuable teaching resource, which is already there, in use, heated and lit. We should beware of any numbers formula that limits school building size and provision to consideration of bottoms on seats.
Conservative-controlled Suffolk is one of the few authorities with no grant-maintained schools—and none have yet balloted for such status. Hon. Members may say that that tells us all that we need to know about grant-maintained status. They are entitled to that view. It also says much about the authority, by which I was employed as a teacher. I visit its schools regularly and often and I know that Suffolk offers a real and developing service to its schools. I know, too, how it has developed in response to our reforms in the past 10 years. There is loyalty which consists of more than clinging to nurse for fear of something worse.
I do not oppose the stripping out of LEAs in principle, but, as with all our legislation, we should be wary of making law for the worst cases. I do not want us to risk throwing out the best with the bad to get the law right. Let us by all means devolve funding to the schools, but there will come a point at which LEAs are left with insufficient funds to keep together the excellent teams that they have gathered. That is a danger. Perhaps our reviews of local government—quite apart from the Department for Education and the Bill—will effectively end the LEAs as we know them, but, while the Bill is in Committee, we should consider carefully whether to write into it a definition of the new model LEA which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described to me so graphically in the Select Committee a few weeks ago.
We must listen to advisers and to heads, always remembering that not all the best teachers naturally become heads. Let us listen to teachers with a good track record. If primary teachers tell us that reports are too intense and that they often miscue what primary teaching is really like, including the daily contact of primary teachers with parents and not just once-a-year contacts through reports, we should take note of what they say.
I admire my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for rushing on, but I urge him to carry with us as many people as we can. We have heard the perception of many Opposition Members and teachers that we have diminished choice, quality and parental influence in favour of centralist control. We perceive the opposite, and we must overcome their view by practical experience of the facts.
When I first taught years ago, anyone could attend an interview one day and be before a class the next. The hon. member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) referred to Inner London education authority schools. I was one on supply in an ILEA school and, because I had been there for several weeks, I was part of the furniture in the staff room. The only job I was given one day by the deputy head was to telephone area office and ask for a supply teacher to teach 4C because there was no one upstairs to teach that form.
Those days and the teaching passengers of the 1970s have gone. Teachers have worked hard to build foundations with the blocks that we have given them. At times, that had the apparent chaos of a building site in Sarajevo. Many are bewildered not just by the speed of our reforms, but by the reforms of our reforms. Many are politically opposed to us. However, I believe that the profession in general has done us proud in setting up the foundations.
Fortunately, the Bill seeks to build on those foundations. It does not sweep them away and start within a new plan. The profession deserves our praise and thanks for what has been achieved and it now deserves our encouragement to build higher. Let us keep the skies as clear of confrontation as we can. Let us not change the rules any more than we have to and let us stop that unprecedented deluge of paper which has almost drowned the profession, so that teachers can get on and deliver the education that we all want.
I am delighted to be able to participate in this debate, as I spent 14 years in the teaching profession—seven years in schools and seven years working with children with special educational needs.
I have concluded that the wrongly named Education Reform Act 1988 has failed. The only intention of that legislation was to centralise the control of education at the Department for Education. The route for that centralisation was grant-maintained schools.
The Bill will cause the destruction of a co-operative partnership in education that has survived numerous political parties in Government since 1870. The history of locally delivered education, with the support of elected representatives, dates back to the establishment of school boards in 1870. The Bill will remove local education authorities from our democratic processes, and for that reason alone we should oppose it.
The route towards the destruction of the LEAs is straightforward. Grant-maintained schools will become more prevalent in the education system. As that happens, the funding councils will take over the role of the LEA's. Locally democratically elected people in charge of the delivery of education will be replaced by political patronage of the Secretary of State for Education.
That anti-democratic move must be resisted. If we allow it to happen, it will be a sad day for democracy and for our education system. It is wrong to allow the Secretary of State the sole prerogative to appoint the members of the funding councils.
We oppose grant-maintained status, because it is divisive. Grant-maintained schools are fragmentary, and they will abolish a tier of democracy. As the funding councils take over the role of LEAs, the Government will insist on the introduction of selection. That process is clear in the White Paper, and it is abundantly clear in the Bill.
If the Government had been honest about their intentions for centralisation and for the abolition of LEA's and about the fact that they wanted selection, and had spelt out precisely what the Bill was about, would such a Bill have been passed by the House? I believe that it would not have been passed, because it would have caused outrage in the community at large.
The White Paper also contains an attack on surplus places. It says that it is
imperative that the available money is spent on pupils and not on empty buildings.
The Secretary of State must therefore explain what he intends to do when schools that are threatened with closure because of reorganisation and an attempt to rationalise places in an LEA apply to opt out. Will he grant them grant-maintained status? If he will, the so-called attack on surplus school places is nonsense.
There have generally been two reasons why schools have applied for grant-maintained status: first, they have been threatened with closure by the LEA, and secondly, they wanted increased funding because LEAs have underfunded them. The Bill attempts to move in that direction.
We are also told that it is the Secretary of State's intention that more schools should be grant-maintained. If he believes that, why did he not legislate for it in the first place and so be honest with the public? He did not do so because he knows that grant-maintained status will not address the problems in education.
Grant-maintained status does nothing to improve the chronic underfunding of our education system. It does not lower class sizes, and it does nothing to improve school building maintenance. Similarly, it does nothing to improve the morale of teachers. If the Secretary of State allowed every school to become grant-maintained, he would not be able to pass the buck to anyone else. He would have to accept responsibility for what is wrong in the education system.
We have had 13 years of Conservative rule, and the Opposition will not accept lectures from Conservative Members about standards in education when the Government have had 13 years to address the problems. I am deeply concerned about the Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which has to do with the centralisation of control of education in the hands of the Secretary of State. Staffed by political patronage on behalf of the Secretary of State, the authority will allow the Secretary of State to control the knowledge taught in schools and to interfere in the way in which that knowledge is delivered. That provision is fundamentally wrong.
I make no bones about the fact that we need a curriculum and assessment authority. However, it must be independent and able to take an objective view of the needs of education in society. The council should not have to suffer the Secretary of State's diktat.
If the Bill achieves its aims in respect of integration of children with special needs into mainstream schools, I will applaud that. It intends to make such integration a greater feature of our education system. If that is to work, it will need adequate resources to ensure that children with special educational needs have full access to facilities in ordinary schools.
Special educational needs can be met through the statementing procedure. I accept that the procedure has not so far worked as it was meant to work under the Warnock report, the concept of which was that a child's educational needs would be assessed and met. Over the past seven or eight years, the assessment has been resource-led rather than needs-led. In other words, the resources available in local authorities have determined what individuals have received. It should be the other way round.
It would be welcome if we could speed up the statementing procedure, but that will require extra resources. That will mean more educational psychologists and more resources in social services for the social work element in the assessment, and the medical profession will have to be speeded up to ensure that the appendices are submitted on time. If that happens, I will applaud it as a step in the right direction.
If the Secretary of State is intent on increasing the number of pupils with special needs in mainstream schools, the number of pupil places necessary in special schools will decrease. We are told in the Bill that special schools will now be able to apply for grant-maintained status. Will the Secretary of State allow special schools, which are threatened with closure because resources have been reallocated to ensure that pupils go to mainstream schools, to apply to opt out? He should answer that question.
Hansard of 1 December 1987 contains the following words:
The important question is what is required in education today and what is necessary to achieve it. I am sick to death of education in this country being knocked in the way that it is, largely for political purposes, and of teachers being constantly hammered. The great majority of our teachers are good and devoted people, as I have found in my constituency and my home area. However, they are now completely demoralised because of the treatment they have received." [Official Report, 1 December 1987; c. 792.]
That was in a speech by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). I agree with every word of it.
We need to take a detached look at education. We need an in-depth inquiry into the requirements of our education system similar to the great inquiries previously held into education. We need a considered view about how education is delivered.
The demand for the Bill does not come from teachers, pupils or anyone involved in education. It has been introduced because the Tory party has so far failed to deliver under the 1988 Act.
The Bill is anti-democratic. The 1944 Act set up a partnership between local authorities and central Government and that should persist. Reinhold Niebuhr said in 1944:
Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.
That is why the Bill must be refused a Second Reading this evening.
I shall focus this evening on religious education. I noticed with some sorrow that neither the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) nor the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) made any attempt to deal with the issue. I wonder why. Perhaps they are not interested or perhaps they do not care.
I am sorry, but I cannot give way, because time is tight.
The Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen are not interested or do not care, but parents care. Parents are making their feelings known, and it is right that we should respond. I pay a special tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his interest and commitment to religious education. I appreciate his desire for a fresh impetus in RE, which he expressed yesterday. It is significant that large sections of the Bill are devoted to religious education and contain positive steps to revitalise spiritual and moral education.
The time has come to stop being apologetic about being a Christian country. We should be proud of it. We should not allow non-believers to undermine our traditions. As I described in July in my Adjournment debate on religious education, it is a tragedy that the teaching of the Christian faith has become woefully neglected in the face of multiculturalism which is promoting minority faiths at the expense of Christianity—the faith allegiance of the vast majority of the people of this nation.
As a result of that neglect, a generation of children are growing up with at best a muddled understanding and knowledge of Christianity, and at worst sheer, frightening ignorance. Children have a right to a faith without being proselytised. They have a right to understand our Christian history, which provides our moral and cultural heritage.
Sadly, more needs to be done. I welcome the attention given in the Bill to religious education. Since July, I have sent out a questionnaire to parents and children to assess the exact amount of Christian teaching at schools. I have received a considerable response. Often, the replies are pitiful and demonstrate the sheer wanton neglect of religious education. Some children are unable to recite the Lord's prayer. They have never studied the gospels or the Bible. Indeed, in many cases, RE is not even timetabled.
I do not have the time to go through all the examples, but one typical 12-year-old at a county school cannot recite the Lord's prayer, has not studied the gospels and knows nothing about the 23rd psalm. A 16-year-old—my goodness, she should know by now—had only the sketchiest idea of Jesus's life. She said that RE was not timetabled at the school. An 11-year-old at a Greenwich school has no timetabled RE lessons. However, I was informed that the infants celebrated the harvest festival, and that the age group took part in the Chinese new year and Diwali.
What are we to do with that depressing catalogue? I welcome the attention given to religious education in the Bill. I particularly welcome clause 126, which allows grant-maintained schools to choose their own agreed RE syllabus from another local authority. At present, grant-maintained schools that are not voluntary schools must follow the syllabus of the local education authority even after they have opted out. Under clause 126, an opted-out school in, say, Birmingham, would be free to choose the RE syllabus of another authority and so be released from the requirement to study non-theistic life stances such as communism and Marxism.
Might I suggest that a model for a mainly Christian RE syllabus, which is what a syllabus should be according to the 1988 Act, might be taken from Cornwall or West Sussex, for example? Those LEAs both have a more acceptable approach which grant-maintained schools might consider. The syllabuses have a much better balance than, say, the Rotherham module adopted by many left-wing authorities, including Sutton. The Rotherham syllabus lists Christianity as just another off-the-shelf religion alongside five others—Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism.
Sutton's primary school teachers are offered 167 themes for seven to 11-year-olds. I do not detect one word devoted to Christianity, its faith and its teaching. The buzz words are new life, aging, death, creations, light and dark, growth, wind, fire, water and eggs. A junior school in my constituency recently banned a local vicar from its religious education activities.
I particularly welcome clause 224, which provides that a local authority must review its RE sylabus and bring it into line with the 1988 Act to make it mainly Christian. As the Secretary of State said, it is disappointing that two thirds of the LEAs have yet to revise their RE syllabus. I trust that the way in which the syllabus is applied in schools will be monitored stringently.
In view of what I have described, I call for particular attention to be paid to the process to speed up and strengthen the parental complaints procedures. That must be done sensitively, and in some cases information must be accepted anonymously. Parents fear, in some cases rightly, that their children will be victimised at school. I know of parents and governors who were removed from school governing bodies when it became known that they had complained and made their feelings public.
I welcome the attention paid in the Bill to the spiritual and moral welfare of the children of this country. We cannot have academic study without moral study to go with it.
I shall exercise self-discipline, although, having watched the antics of Government Front Benchers, led by the Secretary of State, the smart Alec of the third form, I know exactly where not to seek a good example.
We have had numerous Secretaries of State and a multiplicity of Bills, directives and changes which have disrupted schools, burdened teachers and confused and frustrated parents. All the while, we have paid scant attention to the consumers of the service—children and young people.
The Bill is yet another to be based on a White Paper which barely mentions school children and has little to say about quality education. That is where we are, because the Government are bent on disrupting and cajoling and on following blinkered and disruptive policies regardless of the damage that they will do to the education of our children. I shall deal briefly with whether the Bill tackles the problems of London and special educational needs.
The Government persist in following the failed policies of opt-out. Parents and governors have consistently rejected the policy. Now they are to be bribed and browbeaten into accepting it. In four years, only 2 per cent. of schools in London have opted out. Clearly, the policy is unpopular and unwelcome, so why do the Government insist on persisting with it? Why do they not understand that they have nothing to offer but failed ideas? They are in an ideological straitjacket and simply cannot accept that governors and parents know their schools best and know the best interests of the pupils in them, which is to stay within the local education authority.
On special educational needs, the policies to increase competition between schools and to introduce the marketplace into the classroom will marginalise children who need extra help and support and who will not feature at the top of league tables. The Bill proposes to establish guidance and criteria to determine the need for assessment of pupils' educational needs. I welcome the establishment of such objective criteria, but let us remember that only 2 per cent. of children have statements of their special educational needs, while one in five has a learning difficulty which requires extra support at some stage in their school life. There is no provision in the Bill for those children—nothing; just dogma.
It was clear from the Secretary of State's remarks yesterday that he did not even understand the difference between special educational needs and statementing. What is particularly worrying is that the overemphasis on statementing will lead parents to believe that the only way that they will get extra support for their children is through a statement, which will lead to less funds for other areas of support and will undermine the opportunity for quality education for all those in need.
I welcome the Government's stated support for integrating pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schooling. That will enshrine in legislation the existing good practice in Labour local authorities. For example, in Lewisham two and a half years ago less than 2 per cent. of the school population had statements and there was a poor record of integration, with just 13 per cent. of pupils with statements in mainstream schools—the national average is about 37 per cent. Lewisham set itself a target of 50 per cent. of pupils with statements being educated in mainstream schools within five years. At present, 60 per cent. of statemented pupils in Lewisham attend mainstream schools. I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State congratulate Labour-controlled local authorities on their achievements in that respect.
We have heard that the people who are most concerned for children with special educational needs are worried about the implications of the Bill. It is not clear who is responsible for what. Local education authorities have a duty to review their arrangements, but who oversees what is happening in grant-maintained schools? Who is responsible for ensuring that there is a range of provision locally? In grant-maintained schools, what will happen to pupils with special educational needs who do not have statements? The choice and diversity for such children and their parents are being thrown out of the window. Schools will choose pupils, rather than parents choosing schools, and we know which pupils they will choose. It will not be the youngsters with behavioural or emotional problems.
Organisations for the disabled want the Secretary of State to consult further with them on funding, over and above the standard per capita amount, to meet the needs of children without statements. Will the Secretary of State guarantee tonight that he will discuss that with people who know what they are talking about? Even when pupils have a statement, grant-maintained schools can refuse them on the ground of non-compatibility with the efficient use of resources. What a get-out clause—so much for choice.
What bothers me about this enormous Bill is its singular lack of provision for children under five. Everyone who knows anything about children with special educational needs knows that one can do more for them and can advance their abilities much faster if one begins as early as possible. Neither the White Paper nor the Bill deals with the statutory response to their needs. It focuses on the school system after the child reaches the age of five.
One would have thought that, if one were determined to add to the 17 Acts in 13 years of Conservative government, one would at least have tackled an area where there is desperate need. The Secretary of State could have come up with a Bill that would provide nursery places for all three and four-year-olds whose parents wanted them. He could have made statutory provision for children under five with special educational needs; instead, he chose to ignore the clamour for nursery education, to brush aside the needs of the most vulnerable children and to present a Bill that is filled with failed policies and failed ideas and that will inevitably fail our children.
The Bill is based on huff and puff, but it blows away a real opportunity to be a "landmark" which—to quote the Secretary of State—
will endure well into the next century."—[Official Report, 9 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 627.]
Not only are the educational needs of London children ignored, but so are their parents' views. During the rapid consultation period, there has been no change of mind, no taking on board what people involved in education have had to say and no acceptance of the views of people involved with children's welfare or concerned with quality education for every child, regardless of ability. There is
nothing—just dogma. The Bill is simply the White Paper renamed. It is wholly inadequate and an inappropriate foundation for education in the next century.
London's education authorities have tried to do their best under enormous contraints. The new authorities have struggled to overcome the enormous disruption caused by the abolition of the Inner London education authority. They have worked with outer London boroughs to provide high quality education and to respond together to the continuing intervention of central Government. Yet they have improved standards by sharing good practice and expertise. The Bill seeks to undermine that partnership and the partnership that local authorities have built with parents, governors and teachers. The Bill is simply a dogmatic attack on local government by a Secretary of State who could not bring himself to mention children, students or pupils until his first Question Time was virtually over.
Added to the volume of political change in the education service during the past decade, the Bill will prove a major and tragic setback to the development of excellence in education. It passes over the real problems of children with special educational needs and leaves grant-maintained schools to do as they please, with local authorities picking up the tab. Clearly, it is an attempt to establish not merely a two-tier education system but a three-tier system, in which those who are least able to articulate their needs will fall by the wayside.
I hope that everyone on the Conservative Benches who seriously cares about quality education for children will join us to oppose a damaging, disgraceful and dangerous Bill.
In education, the key is quality and the essence of the Bill is increasing quality. In Committee, the House should consider the use of the Office for Standards in Education to assess quality in grant-maintained and local education authority schools. While discussing quality, I must praise teachers, who are conscientious, dedicated and professional and who often work long hours. They hold the key to the success of the individual and to our success as a nation. The Bill gives teachers the tools to do their job properly.
Special education is often discussed at the end of a debate, as an afterthought, but it has been prominent during this debate. The Secretary of State has drawn our attention to the considerable programme aimed at integrating special needs children into mainstream schools. Much as that can be welcomed, some children can do better in the protected and caring environment of a special school. Therefore, as the Bill allows, special schools should be encouraged to opt in to self-governing status so that they can secure benefits for their children as well.
I also believe that parents generally know best which school is right for their child. I therefore welcome clause 8, which will force a nominated school, grant-maintained or LEA, to take a statemented child.
As the Secretary of State, who I am pleased to see is here tonight, knows, I represent Castle Point, which itself represents a milestone in the development of education in this country, because Castle Point will be the first constituency in which 100 per cent. of secondary phase schools have self-governing status. Many of our local primary schools are also opting in to self-governing status. Benfleet votes next Monday. This clearly shows that the people of Castle Point are discerning people; they are an educated crew who care deeply for their children. These are the real Essex men and Essex women.
Castle Point schools do not go for GM because of money. They have told me quite unambiguously that they take grant-maintained status because it enables them to enjoy better management control of their schools for the benefit of their children and of our local community.
It is also widely acknowledged in Castle Point that this Bill will increase local accountability, not erode it. What could be more accountable and democratic than annually elected boards of governors, comprising parents, local people and teachers, all with one thing in common—an overwhelming vested interest, that of their children?
Self-governing status is not the pursuit of some novel ideology, as the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) said yesterday. It is the pursuit of the common-sense practical means of improving quality, choice and diversity, and of increasing real local democracy.
I come now to the Funding Agency for Schools. We in Castle Point are keen to learn how this will work and how the formula will be constructed. Consultation on the common funding formula should begin at the earliest possible moment, therefore, so that the formula and the mechanisms can be fixed, and we can make decisions and plan ahead with more certainty.
In Essex, the LMS formula is wrong and causes underfunding of primary schools. Essex LEA accepts this fact. It has put extra money into primary schools this year, but the problem has not yet been totally resolved, notwithstanding my continued pressure. I am hoping that the common funding formula will be better balanced than was Essex's formula as between the primary and secondary age-weighted pupil units. I also hope that the common funding formula will be based on SSAs in a rational way, because Essex spends £23 million below its SSA on education. I trust, therefore, that Essex education and Essex primary schools will benefit directly from this Bill. That is why this Bill is liked in Essex.
I must stress that, notwithstanding the underspending in Essex, its results are well above average. We achieve well above the average level of graded GCSE passes. This speaks volumes for the quality of the LEA in Essex, the quality of the teachers and the governors in Essex and the quality of the parents, all of them Essex men and women.
I want to consider carefully clause 7(4) of the Bill. Perhaps the 75 per cent. for funding agency trigger is a little high; 51 per cent. might have some advantages—I do not know. The pros and cons will need to be weighed very carefully in Committee.
I shall also be keen to watch carefully the development of the funding agency. It must not become a massive replacement bureaucracy for the old LEA. I know that the Secretary of State agrees with me on this.
That brings me to strategic planning. The LEAs have failed miserably; they do not do this effectively. I welcome the powers given the Bill to reduce vacant places from 1·5 million to about 750,000, which is the maximum we need to support choice and normal turnover. I want these powers to be used with rapier-like speed, to remove the dead space and return that money, which I estimate to be about £150 million, to the education of our children. That is simple common sense.
I can illustrate for the House how poor LEAs are at strategic planning by reference to further education in Castle Point. The 1991 staying-on rate for all Essex schools was 65 per cent. The staying-on rate for Castle Point schools—my constituency, but just the mainland part—was 67 per cent. Yet the schoolchildren of my 40,000 Canvey Island residents were able to get a rate of only 49 per cent.—shamefully low. In past years, the difference has been much worse, with Canvey totally let down by the Essex LEA.
Essex LEA does not provide one place for further education on the whole of Canvey Island, even though on that island there is a 16-to-18 cohort of well above 1,000 youths. Young people on that island are robbed of the opportunity for further education, or made to jump through hoops to get it.
At the same time, the LEA in Essex has maintained many empty places in Castle Point secondary schools—wasted assets, wasted money, wasted opportunities. I will take no lectures from any hon. Members on the need to retain strategic planning in the LEAs. That would be simply a sick joke for my constituents. We have on the mainland only one further education establishment. I therefore welcome the powers in the Bill which enable the Secretary of State to allow some of our excellent secondary schools to change their character and to provide totally independent, self-managed sixth-form further education opportunities. That is what we need; that is what we will get, sooner rather than later.
I should also like the Secretary of State to use his powers to give specialised status to a secondary school on Canvey Island to use the schools technology initiative to give Canvey Island its first further education places, and to redress the scandalous failure of the LEA in strategic planning.
I welcome the provision in clause 224 with regard to the religious education syllabus in the 1988 Act. I welcome, too, the speech just made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland).
I welcome the creation of education associations to identify failing schools. I want them to be staffed with experienced people with a balance of skills that must include chalkface experience. Clause 194 should clarify that matter. I want clause 227 and schedule 14 to clarify how we will prevent the unacceptable indefinite exclusions of difficult pupils. More details should be given about how we can deal with a disruptive child.
I want a system in which every child and every school has equality of opportunity, free from political manipulation, so that each can succeed by their own efforts. That is why I came into politics; that is why I stand in this House, and perhaps this is the point at which I should sit down.
I should like to take up what the Secretary of State said about choice and diversity.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not realise that, for some parents, choice has been available since local government reorganisation in 1974. In my constituency, there are five secondary schools, and when my eldest children were choosing their secondary schools in 1976 and 1978, under a Labour Government, we could exercise a preference for any of those schools and for two or three others immediately outside the constituency. There were no practical constraints on choice, except the number of places available and the popularity of the schools. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman talks about choice, it is difficult to know how choice of school could be increased for parents in my area. I suspect that he means that he will create artificial divisions and differences to make it more likely that parents will want to reject their local school.
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about diversity and specialisation; by that we assume that some schools will be encouraged to specialise in certain subjects, perhaps technology or music, as the national curriculum allows, of course. A parent with two children might want to send one to a school specialising in technology and one to a school specialising in music, but she might find that those schools were 30 miles apart, at opposite ends of the county. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is a sensible method of arranging things?
I want all schools to be able to accommodate their teaching methods and their specialties to the children within them. That is what the business world calls "customer orientation" and what the education world calls "child-centred learning". Most parents want to be able to send their children to the local state school, and they want to be guaranteed a quality education that is flexible to them and their needs, can accommodate their children's difficulties and encourage their children's talents. Parents want that school to liaise effectively with them.
The right hon. Gentleman should also consider the logic of trying to create different kinds of schools. We are beginning to integrate the vast majority of children with special educational needs into ordinary mainstream schools— I understand that that is still Government policy. In other words, special schools are gradually being phased out. In that case, why are we trying to create another kind of special school for those with difference aptitudes? Are we saying that our maintstream schools can cope with children with physical, learning and behaviourial disabilities, but that they cannot provide the right sort of environment for those with another kind of special need? That is an illogical and poorly thought out policy.
Even the schools in the Prime Minister's constituency are not succumbing to grant-maintained status. Hinchingbrooke school in Huntingdon has a Prime Minister as its Member of Parliament, and the Education Minister, Baroness Blatch, is a former chairman of its governors. The governors of that school, however, have decided against even asking parents to vote on opting out. Evidently they were not convinced that opting out would raise standards, and the head was quoted as saying: "I think there was a feeling that there is a lot wrong in principle with opting out."
I ask hon. Members to reject the Bill. Let us tackle the real issue in education by looking at the evidence and the facts. There is no evidence that creating diversity either through specialisation, selectivity or by changing the status of a school will do anything to raise standards. However, there is a great deal of evidence that much can be done by raising teachers' morale, increasing resources and stopping the experiments with our children's lives.
I have listened with interest to many of the speeches, particularly, to that of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) who asked what progress had been made under this Government. Is he not aware that a record number of pupils are staying on at school? Is he not aware that a record number of pupils are going into higher education? It is a bit rum for a member of the Opposition Front-Bench team to talk about progress when, in an act of mean-minded reactionary vandalism, they wanted to destroy grammar schools, city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools.
I disagree slightly with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), because we must recognise that we live in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. It is wrong that a system of religious education should be angled at one part of our community. If we do not have a system whereby Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and the vast majority of the Jewish community can go to voluntary aided schools, religious education in the state system must take account of that fact. Those religions have a positive contribution to make and I do not think that we want a WASP-dominated religious education system today.
I suspect that the members of the minority faiths attend places of worship at the weekend. The majority probably stay at home, so the "don't knows" are no doubt in the ascendancy in this public opinion poll.
I am taking part in the debate for three reasons. The first is that year after year Barnet has the best education results of any local authority. We are told a great deal by Labour Members about the level of public expenditure on education. Frankly, parents do not worry so much about the level of expenditure as about whether their children will get to university at the end of their period of schooling.
Labour Members have the nerve to talk about the demise of the ILEA, that high-cost, low-result education authority which put socialism before results. Nobody should complain about the demise of that incompetent organisation. Barnet council is a thousand times more efficient, achieving far better results, than the ILEA ever was.
My second reason for taking part is that Hendon school was the first in London to opt out of local authority control. I remember the consultation meetings. As a good constituency hon. Member, I chaired the meetings to ensure that there was fair play. Events have belied the fears of the opponents of opting out, who claimed that there would be huge administrative difficulties. In fact, the system of LMS means that the school, whether or not it has opted out, is automatically responsible for the vast bulk of its budget.
It is a short step from LMS to becoming grant-maintained. It may be a short administrative step, but it is a gigantic leap for the future of the school. For example, Hendon school was able to redistribute resources away from the centralised local authority services towards improvements in education. In the first year of Hendon becoming a GM school, the headmaster was able to give the teachers everything they wanted by way of books, teaching aids and so on.
He was able to improve the quality of life for the teachers by employing outside invigilators for school exams, so that the teachers did not have to sit there being bored for a couple of hours or so invigilating the pupils. The headmaster was also able to improve the quality of school lunches by getting Gardner Merchant Services, instead of the local authority, to run them. Let us not forget that an army of schoolchildren marches on its stomach.
The real test for a school does not depend on what we politicians say, because we sometimes get it wrong. Teachers and parents decide whether a school is good or bad. I recall an experience when my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), now the Secretary of State for Transport, visited the school in 1990. A teacher told my right hon. Friend, "I am a member of the Labour party." I wondered what he would say next and I thought a gigantic political debate was about to start. But he added, "The best thing that happened to this school was when it became grant-maintained." When I accompanied Lady Thatcher around the school during the election campaign, that same teacher wanted only a signed photograph of that distinguished lady.
The real test must be the numbers applying to the school. In 1987–88, Hendon was a heavily under-subscribed school. Today it is heavily over-subscribed. If the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) were still in her place, I would remind her that 50 per cent. more pupils now apply to go to that school than applied to attend it when it was within the local authority system.
The third reason why I am taking part in the debate is that my two sons are educated in the maintained system. I emulate the Minister and make a small confession. I, too, have lectured to a branch of the Workers Educational Association. I found most of those present to be middle-class, middle-aged and middle-brow in their interests. Nor were they any longer supportive of the Labour party.
I pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of the vast majority of teachers. We do the profession a disservice when we dwell on the small minority who are not truly professional, because they are not typical of the vast majority of teachers.
Will my right hon. friend the Secretary of State turn his attention to voluntary-aided schools? Since the passage of the Education Act 1944, such schools have been a great success. They have met the desire of many Catholic and Anglican parents for their children to be taught in denominational schools. There are also a number of Jewish voluntary-aided schools. All those schools have good academic and behavioural results. Schools that emphasise standards of behaviour always tend to have good academic results and those that are very academic usually have relatively well-behaved children.
A majority of Catholic children who want to be educated in a voluntary-aided denominational school can be so educated. The vast majority of Anglican children who want to be educated in a voluntary-aided Church of England school can be so educated. Many of those who go to the C of E school in my constituency would not be classified as believers in the Christian faith. Indeed, some of them have not darkened the doors of a church for many years and some come from other denominations.
My orthodox Jewish constituents welcome the fact that Catholic schools exist for Catholic children and Anglican children can be educated in Anglican schools. But they ask why, as they pay their taxes too, their children cannot be educated in voluntary-aided Jewish schools on the same basis.
The Government need to look closely at the problems for other denominations, as well as at those of the two main denominations that have benefited from voluntary-aided status. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools look again at the problem of the Hasmonean preparatory school, about which I have peppered them and their predecessors with letters? Until they change their mind, I will continue to pepper them with correspondence. It might save public expenditure if we called it game, set and match to the parents and staff of that school, because it has been in existence for 50 years and has very good results. They have spent a lot of money on modernising it and bringing it up to date, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will recognise their achievements in the not-too-distant future.
Yesterday afternoon, we heard one of the most lamentable performances that the House has ever heard from a Secretary of State for Education. It contained no substance, no serious analysis, no creative thoughts and no attempt to grapple with the real and serious issues that face Britain today as, educationally, and sadly, we fall further down the European league of achievement and standards.
Instead, we saw a Secretary of State who was more preoccupied with his appearance—the master of the blow wave and Thespian histrionics. We saw a Secretary of State delighted with himself, denouncing Labour authorities for supposedly indulging in political interference in discussing the future of their schools. What a pity that he had not first had a word with his Parliamentary Private Secretary.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) rightly pointed out, the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) had been engaged in an exercise of arm-twisting of a voluntary-aided school in Fulham—[Interruption.] I shall tell hon. Members some more if they will listen. That school had applied, reasonably and rightly, to expand from two to three forms of entry because it is a popular, successful school and has a huge demand for places. The hon. Member for Fulham intervened to try to persuade the school that it would have a prospect of success only if it went grant-maintained.
His approach produced the following response from the four groups of people most likely to know the interests of that school and its educational needs. I am talking about the chairman of the governors, the chair of the staff association, the chair of the parents' association and the head teacher, who in a combined letter wrote as follows —and the Secretary of State would do well to listen—
as the signatories of this letter show, there is deep and widespread concern at the news that our application to become"—
The hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to know that I would have called the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) to order if he had been out of order. There are, after all, 200 pages in the Bill. The speech has so far been in order.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The letter says:
as the signatories of this letter show, there is deep and widespread concern at the news that our application to become a three-form entry school will not be dealt with on its merits and in particular the strong educational case and uniquely high rate of overscription, but may be dependent on whether we are prepared to choose Grant Maintained Status at this point. Indeed, it seemed to us, that you were saying that the application might be refused precisely in order to encourage us to become a Grant Maintained school … If the Government really want schools to exercise a free and informed choice whether to become Grant Maintained, is it not counter-productive to resort to what has all the appearance of 'blackmail' to achieve that purpose?
The Secretary of State was evasive when challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury to say whether that and similar applications would be treated on their merits on a level playing field, or whether other political influences would be brought to bear. The House deserves an answer tonight, but, above all, the governors, parents and teachers of that school deserve an answer, as do other schools interested in similar applications, on whether the applications will be entitled to consideration on their merits or whether political bias on the Government side will influence the decision. If we do not get a straight answer that confirms that any such application will be treated on its merits, the Government will stand condemned of the most blatant hypocrisy, criticising others for political interference while practising it themselves in the most flagrant way.
The fact that the Government have to resort to such tactics speaks volumes. So much for the much-vaunted success of the grant-maintained initiative. The truth, which was well presented by many of my hon. Friends in the debate, is that surprisingly few schools have taken up the grant-maintained option, despite all the hype, all the encouragement and all the incentives which the Government have offered.
Let us take the figures for London. They show that a total of 54 primary and secondary schools have been given approval to opt out. That is an average of 1·6 schools per borough. When we examine the breakdown, we see that five boroughs, all Tory-controlled, account for no fewer than 38 of those 54 opt-outs; that is 70 per cent. of the total. Bromley with 11 heads the list; Hillingdon with 10 is next; Ealing with seven and Sutton and Wandsworth with five each complete the list.
There is clear evidence that, by contrast with those five Tory authorities, which dominate the opt-outs in London, no Labour-controlled authority in London had more than one school opting out, and many, like Greenwich, had no opt-outs at all.
Talking as I do to the head teachers, staff and parents of children in Greenwich schools, I am well aware of the concerns and priorities. They are totally at variance with the priorities of the Bill. Greenwich parents and teachers want their schools to be properly resourced and they want also a reversal of the cuts which have seriously affected many schools in the last two years, with the withdrawal of the transitional funding around the abolition of the Inner London education authority and the unfair treatment of Greenwich under the standard spending assessment formula.
They, like me, want the many very good schools in Greenwich to be able to provide the high-quality education that they aspire to provide for their pupils. They want resources, stability and freedom from the political interference which has characterised the Government's behaviour over the past 13 years, so that they can then deliver what they are in education to deliver. They want to give high-quality education to the children of our area and country who deserve far better than they are getting from this Government.
This has been a lively debate. Over the past two days, it has exposed this sham of the Bill. It is an admission by the Government of 13 years of failure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) so eloquently pointed out.
The Bill has nothing to do with improving standards in education. The only clear benefits in it are some of the provisions for improving education for children with special needs, but even they contain some shortcomings that must be ovecome.
Like all the other education legislation proposed by the Government, the Bill puts the cart before the horse. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) gave the game away. The Opposition had been berating the Government over the short consultation period and the lack of attention paid to that consultation, as evidenced by changes in the Bill which the Government have described in a press release as some refinements to 200 pages of legislation. The hon. Gentleman said that the Committee stage would be protracted, so the opportunity for consultation would continue. We certainly hope so, but why could we not have proper consultation first, followed by a Bill? Then the Government would not have had to announce amendments to the Bill even before Second Reading.
The Times Educational Supplement summed up the disappointment felt by almost everyone in education, apart from a tightly knit group of Conservative Members:
There is now little support for the advance publicity claiming that a definitive Act to see out the century was in the making.
The editorial went on to expose the failings of the Bill and the criticisms levelled at it from every quarter.
The experts are also worried about what does not appear in the Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope), for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon), for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall), for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) underlined the serious shortcomings in the Bill in respect of children with and without statements.
The Special Education Consortium, which represents just about every voluntary organisation—RADAR, Mencap, the Spastics Society, the British Dyslexia Association, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and Deaf Accord—speaks of the potentially damaging implications for the education of children with special needs, especially those who are not statemented. It speaks of the fears about parental choice and of the evidence that education is already being damaged. It says that, because of the pressures on local authority budgets, after delegating money to schools, they are already beginning to lose some of the excellent people involved in the support services for special needs education. The list is damning. Only statemented pupils will have certain resources to support them, and it is feared that non-statemented children with special needs will not be properly recognised throughout the system. Only some local authorities, such as Lewisham, have the good sense to make the effort to prevent that.
The many criticisms made by the voluntary organisations involved with children with special needs show that the Bill will have to be much amended if it is to be made half decent for those children who deserve special help across the board.
Much has been said about the wonders that the funding agency will achieve for schools that opt out. My hon. Friends the Members for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) and for Warrington, South and the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) have all said that the funding agency, whatever name it has, will not be local, accountable or democratic. Even with a regional set-up, parents who wish to express concern will have to travel a long way in order to do so and will not be able to remove the agency if they are dissatisfied with its performance.
We must ask whether that national unaccountable bureaucracy is likely to suffer the unwarranted interference of the Secretary of State as, for example, the National Curriculum Council has in the past. There is concern from all quarters about the removal of local accountability and from all quarters there is fear that the arrangements for joint responsibility, for the provision of places to be decided between the local education authority and the funding agency, will be a recipe for chaos and a duplication of powers.
Criticism has also come from the Conservative quarter. The Conservative Education Association has said:
Those who spend that sort of public money should be publicly accountable.
It has also said that the funding agency is a
far larger, more bureaucratic and less accountable national education authority.
Even the chair of the Grant-Maintained Heads Association, Mr. Lloyd, has expressed real fears that that bureaucracy will endanger the so-called newly won freedoms—out of the LEA frying pan and into the funding agency fire. The funding agency will not be accessible in the way that the LEAs, the staff and councillors were. The sooner the Government—
If the hon. Gentleman had been here throughout today's debate, I would have given him that courtesy, but he has not been here.
The funding agency will not be accountable and the sooner we can return to funding being channelled through local authorities, the better.
The Bill attempts to make opt-outs easier. The removal of the second governor's resolution will make the procedure easier. However, it is unlikely that we shall see the opting out of 11,000 or 12,000 schools as was talked about in the early days of grant-maintained status. My hon. Friends the Members for Knowsley, South, for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell), for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall), for Wallsend and for Warrington, South showed that opting out is already a failure. There is no substantial evidence that such schools provide any better education than the large bulk of maintained schools.
Far too many schools have been given grant-maintained status because they have been faced with closure. Two thirds of ballots have taken place in Tory authorities; parents have sought to escape their low-spending policies, or their attempts to reintroduce selection in, for instance, Wandsworth and Trafford.
I am afraid not. The hon. Gentleman has been absent from the Chamber for most of the evening.
Both the CBI and the Institute of Directors have expressed doubts about the validity of the Government's support for, and belief in, grant-maintained schools. The CBI wants to ensure that their efficacy and effectiveness is reviewed within three to four years. The Institute of Directors plainly says that it cannot be assumed that all grant-maintained schools are performing well.
The headmaster of Queen Elizabeth high school in Hexham exposed what opt-outs were all about when he said that opting out was a pretty squalid scheme, which for the most part ensured that scarce resources went to those who needed them least. The Conservative Education Association has also expressed concern, saying that, if the grant-maintained system developed, the system would restrict choice rather than increase it. The Government's emphasis on grant-maintained schools is something about which the association has grave doubts.
As for the issue of choice, we should bear in mind the horrendous impact on parents in Bromley, who, last summer, did not know where their children were going until a week or two before term started. Some of those parents were not even able to send their children to the school that they had named as their fifth choice. In that context, choice is a hollow concept. Labour will get rid of the funding council and will ensure that the performance of grant-maintained schools and the coherent provision of education for all children in LEA areas are examined. Our objective will be to recreate the educational planning role of the LEA and the self-management role of schools. Successful management models can be seen in both Labour and Tory authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West quoted the Conservative chairman of the West Sussex authority. I should like to quote the chairman of the East Essex authority—[Interruption.] I apologise: I meant East Sussex. At least I know that they are both on the south coast. I have done better than the Secretary of State did yesterday in connection with the whereabouts of Gwent and Torfaen. The chair of the East Sussex education committee said:
We haven't been physically leaned on, but I sense there is pressure. The whole idea of a Tory-controlled authority which doesn't have a grant-maintained school is a disappointment to ministers. But I don't understand why that should be if that authority has high standards and is giving schools the chance to make local decisions.
It is perfectly possible.
Hardly a good word has been said by any independent source about the education association. It has been pointed out by the Children's Legal Centre, and by many others who have blitzed us with griefs on the Bill, that there is already a way of dealing with the problem of schools that fail or have a high proportion of difficult children—namely, full implementation of the Elton report. Some authorities are doing that already; it is a pity that the Secretary of State does not take his educational responsibilities seriously and ensure that all authorities implement the report. If he did that, there would be no need for education associations.
The Conservative Education Association, in its comments on that idea, said that support was best given firmly and discreetly. The association regards education associations as precisely the sort of ideologically bound policy that should be avoided. It went on to say that it regarded this as an unwarranted extension of central Government power, capable of abuse in the future. It would be more helpful if the Elton recommendations were properly introduced, and a formal and effective complaints procedure, so that all schools could act effectively. The Conservative Education Association also said that the Bill and the White Paper that preceded it have left teachers punch drunk with change and that the last thing they need is more change that is driven by ideology rather than educational need.
If the Government were interested in educational need and good quality education everywhere, they would long ago have abandoned this continual tinkering with the education of pupils in England and Wales. They would have sought real consultation. They ought by now to know that parents want good quality neighbourhood schools, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge so rightly pointed out. Parents do not want to have to rush far and wide throughout the local authority's area, or outside it, looking for good schools. They want them on their doorsteps. The Secretary of State for Education should ensure that grant-maintained schools provide high quality education.
The Opposition would have been prepared to enter into real consultations in order to achieve a proper consensus on how to provide good quality education for all our children. Unfortunately, the Government, in the 17 Bills that they have introduced, have failed to provide for adequate consultation. After the Government introduced their last huge Bill on education, they had to table nearly 600 amendments in the other place to try to put right their first thoughts. They presented this Bill as an even greater Bill than the great Education Reform Bill. I would not mind betting that even more amendments will be tabled by the Government in order to put right the rush to judgment that they have made in this Bill. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth says that it is part of the consultation. Why on earth could the Government not consult in the first place and then prepare a good Bill, instead of wasting paper, acres of trees, on amendments that then would have been unnecessary?
The Bill is not about choice in education. It is about creating quangos, with Tory placepeople being appointed to positions of influence, thereby being able unduly to influence the education of our children. The Secretary of State already has the power to appoint hundreds of people to quangos in Wales. If a funding council is established for Wales and if a large number of education associations is established in Wales, the strong possibility is that there will be more jobs to fill than there are Tory voters in the whole of the Principality. The Welsh Office should give some thought to the fact that, if it is not careful, it will have to appoint Labour supporters to fill those positions. If it did that, some common sense would prevail in education.
I look forward to the Committee stage because it will offer an opportunity to correct the myriad of mistakes that the Government have perpetrated in their hasty consultation period. They have already admitted that they need to table amendments because the Bill simply is a failure. The Government can rest assured that we shall table amendments to ensure quality education for all children in England and Wales, delivered through a democratic system, which the Bill seeks to destroy.
The two-day debate on this important and major Bill has been characterised by the concerns of Conservative Members for the themes of quality and standards, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), parental choice, which was rightly emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) and constant and knowledgeable references to special educational needs needs by my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) and for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon), to mention but a few.
Those were the themes which came through strongly from Conservative Members. Unfortunately, the themes of Opposition Members were, sadly but predictably, driven by concerns for producer interests—local authority bureaucracies and trade unions—and were embedded firmly in the past. Rarely have I seen such a contrast in attitude, content and approach between Conservative Members and the deadbeats on the other side of the House.
It is little wonder that the Bill and the White Paper have been so widely welcomed. The speeches of Opposition Members marginalised the Opposition in the debate on education and its future.
In a speech devoid of direction or content, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) made the rather ritualistic claim, which was echoed by the hon. Members for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), that the consultation period had been abbreviated or inadequate. That is puzzling. When we were returned after the election in April, the Department was faced with the imperative to set a legal framework for the growing grant-maintained school sector. That could not be delayed or avoided, and we did not want to do so. We wanted to make real improvements to the Education Act 1981 and to special educational needs, which was widely welcomed by the special educational needs world. We wanted to take real action against local education authorities that had persistently failed to address failing schools and the pupils suffering in them.
We therefore published a comprehensive and radical White Paper in record time—by the end of July—and allowed until September for responses. I do not know whether it is unreasonable to expect people, given the whole of August and most of September, to reply to such a document. Suffice it to say that, although Opposition Members were probably safely on the beach, we received nearly 1,000 replies from local authority associations and local authorities, the Churches, the special educational needs lobby and all those sufficiently interested in education to consider and to reply to the White Paper. Why Opposition Members believe that it was so difficult and impossible is beyond me. They will have to answer for that, but it hardly supports their contention that the consultation period was inadequate.
We are determined, having laid this excellent and comprehensive Bill before the House, to press on with the Committee stage to ensure that the Bill's provisions are enacted as early as possible so that its benefits can be spread as far as possible.
I cannot possibly anticipate the Committee stage or subsequent stages of the Bill's consideration. As ever, the Government will be a listening Government. My Secretary of State and I will listen carefully—more carefully than the Opposition—to representations made to us and, if we think that there is a good case for amending the Bill, I am sure that we shall be prepared to do so. That is the essence of the process. Why the hon. Gentleman should find this so amusing, I cannot possibly understand; perhaps he will explain why he finds the concept of listening and flexibility so strange.
I want to deal immediately with a question that arose frequently during the debate. It was raised first by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), in his own individual style, then by my hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who wondered whether education authorities were deliberately misleading parents and governors of schools concerning the possibilities that surround grant-maintained status. Disgraceful material has been produced by many local education authorities: I mention Merton and Hammersmith and Fulham among many authorities that have sought deliberately to mislead parents who are interested in the possibility of grant-maintained status for their schools.
I cannot do better than to quote a letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dated 9 November:
I have written to all schools in the country with the very specific assurance that schools accepted for GM status will continue to receive funding that recognises the extra responsibilities they have as GM schools. I make no caveat in the case of authorities spending above their education SSA.
There it is: it is perfectly clear. My right hon. Friend has made that commitment and I hope that my hon. Friends will go to their schools and local education authorities and make it perfectly clear that the way ahead for grant-maintained status is clear and firm, and that no local education authority must be allowed to peddle the dishonesty that has been peddled in the past. That does no credit to councillors or officials in local education authorities.
Will the Minister say more about this important point, which lay at the heart of all of the responses to the consultation exercise? All those who responded asked whether there would really be an absolutely level playing field as between grant-maintained schools and those maintained by local education authorities. Will there be absolute even-handedness and absolute parity? Is the answer yes or no? This is a Second Reading debate, and that matter is a key principle. Now is the moment for the Minister to tell us.
There can never be a level playing field between grant-maintained schools and local education authority maintained schools, because grant-maintained status gives such clear benefits and advantages.
That brings me to what I would categorise as the Opposition's schizophrenia. It was picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) with his usual unerring accuracy.
On the one hand, Opposition Members seem to exhibit paranoia about what they regard as the threat posed to the establishment and vested interests of local education authorities by the growing grant-maintained sector. Yet, almost in the same breath, the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) said that, as more schools opt out, the LEAs will lose powers to the funding agency and will eventually be relieved of all their functions. In almost the next breath he said that opting out had been an embarrassing flop. Opposition Members cannot have it both ways. Either LEAs are under imminent threat of subversion by the growing grant-maintained sector, or grant-maintained status is a flop. Which is it? We have heard that contradictory message from Opposition Members throughout the debate.
The hon. Member for City of Durham said that schools opted out only in LEAs with under-funded schools. I can tell him and the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers), who tried to peddle the same nonsense, that a cursory look at the list of LEAs spending above SSA and which have a significant number of grant-maintained schools reveals authorities like Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Hertfordshire. I will not continue with the list. However, having failed to do their homework properly as usual, Opposition Members have asserted that only schools from under-funded LEAs are opting for grant-maintained status and that is wrong.
Because he is bobbing up and down, the hon. Member for Wallsend reminds me that he said that the Government's education policy was Maoist. All I can say to him is, "It takes one to know one."
No, not at this stage.
My award for effrontery during the debate goes jointly to the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris) and for Cannock and Burntwood. The hon. Member for Yardley had the gall yesterday to claim that the problem with education in Birmingham was lack of resources. She referred to classes with more than 30 pupils and went on to say:
a work force of frustrated teachers who despair, year after year, at having to make diminishing resources go further and further."—[Official Report, 9 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 687.]
That is right. There are diminishing resources in Birmingham—an authority which in 1991–92 spent £64 million less and in 1992–93, £57 million less than was provided under the SSA. Of course it is a matter of diminishing resources in Birmingham. That is the kind of authority that we are trying to get schools out from under, and I am glad to say that we are doing that very rapidly.
No, I will not give way because I am just warming up about Birmingham.
While we are referring to Birmingham on education performance, I can do no better than quote The Birmingham Post of 6 November 1992 which stated that Birmingham was in the bottom third on this year's GCSE results with only a quarter passing five or more GCSEs at grades A to C, compared with 30 per cent. of average metropolitan LEA schools and a national figure of 38 per cent. The Birmingham Post states revealingly:
Education chiefs in Birmingham are to launch an inquiry into why some secondary schools did so badly in this year's GCSEs.
That is the authority which the hon. Member for Yardley had the nerve to defend yesterday.
Is the Minister aware of the discrepancy in the capital financing of Birmingham city council compared with its actual expenditure? Will he also comment on the fact that the Conservative opposition have never proposed an increase in the education budget at the budget session? Not only that, but when council members such as myself proposed an increase in the budget, the Conservative opposition sat on their hands and did not support it.
The hon. Lady should have a word with her hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) who just the other day said something along the lines of, "If Birmingham council had spent a lot less taxpayers' and chargepayers' money on prestige products, it might have been able to spend a bit more on education."
In fairness to Opposition Members, they have repeatedly asserted or implied that there are some secretive grant-maintained schools that we have yet to unearth. They implied that there can be no positive demonstration that grant-maintained schools are superior to schools that remain under LEA control. I want to quote once more from a letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as I find his letters most revealing and I want to share them with the House. My right hon. Friend said —I should like Opposition Members to listen to this:
HMI have observed not only that in GM schools the proportion of lessons judged satisfactory or better is greater than that in maintained schools generally, but also that since becoming grant-maintained the schools have generally deployed their resources to good effect so as to secure continuing improvements; that the demand for places in the majority of schools has increased since the change of status; that pupils' behaviour and attendance in GM schools are generally commendable; and that teachers' morale has improved.
That is what HMI says about grant-maintained schools. That is the hidden secret that Opposition Members are so keen to unearth. It is now a matter of public record.
During the debate Opposition Members have claimed that somehow there is a golden partnership between LEAs and schools that we must not seek to undermine. I wonder whether they were referring to Islington, where recently we were told that £60,000 has been paid to teachers who no longer work in Islington schools. That happened at a time when the LEA in Islington, presumably as part of its partnership with its schools, had to cut £4 million from its education budget.
Perhaps Opposition Members had Lambeth in mind. The LEA in Lambeth has paid more than £338,000 to 72 phantom teachers who no longer work for the council. Is that what Opposition Members have in mind when they talk about partnerships? Are they surprised that more parents begin to ask searching questions about what LEAs do, especially those that I have mentioned, and why the option of grant-maintained status is not more attractive to them?
I shall mention briefly a point made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly. I shall trespass slightly on to Welsh territory, but as so many hon. Members who spoke come from Wales, I should nod in their direction. I shall read a brief excerpt from the Western Mail—that Welsh bible—which recently said:
The message from Whitehall is that parents should be able to send their children to the school of their choice, shopping round for the one which best meets the requirement of the child. The message from Wales's eight education authorities is, by and large, the negation of that. You send your child to the nearest school, and that's that … Hitherto, opting out has not taken off in Wales. But the current anti-choice culture in Welsh education means that parents and head-teachers will increasingly regard it as a way of liberating their schools from the inflexible grip of county hall. If the counties don't change their ways it could become a stampede.
That sums up better than I could the ethos of what is happening in Wales.
In conclusion, I refer to the quotes from The Times which has been mentioned several times in the debate. A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Caerphilly and the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope), quoted from The Times in July when our White Paper was produced. When the hon. Member for Caerphilly was pushed and invited to examine The Times more recent considered opinion, a certain coyness came over him. Having given time and thought to our White Paper and Bill, The Times recently said:
The government deserves congratulation for its attempt yesterday to dislodge the vested interests that control the state schools system"—
and Opposition Members.
Instead it will be accused of excessive centralisation and worse.
On my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, The Times said
Mr. Patten seems sincerely committed to the idea of improving education for the majority of children. Further, he seems to interpret this to mean what most parents understand by it: restoring the importance of knowledge and visible achievement.
Even my right hon. Friend could not have put it better.
The Government want quality education for all children. We want choice for parents and decisions made as closely as possible to schools and communities. The Bill provides for that with additional important provisions for children with special educational needs—a matter widely recognised.
Opposition Members apparently cannot support those aims. They are in thrall to producer interests, the local authorities, trade unions and any group which feels threatened by changed parental powers and the greater demands of higher standards. We are proud of the Bill, we can see the way ahead and we trust parents and governors. I ask the House to reject the educational Luddites on the Opposition Benches and to support the Bill.
|Division No. 84]||[9.59 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Alexander, Richard||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Day, Stephen|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Amess, David||Devlin, Tim|
|Ancram, Michael||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Arbuthnot, James||Dicks, Terry|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Ashby, David||Dover, Den|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Duncan, Alan|
|Atkins, Robert||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Dunn, Bob|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Elletson, Harold|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Baldry, Tony||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Bates, Michael||Evennett, David|
|Batiste, Spencer||Faber, David|
|Beggs, Roy||Fabricant, Michael|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fishburn, Dudley|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Forman, Nigel|
|Body, Sir Richard||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Forth, Eric|
|Booth, Hartley||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Boswell, Tim||Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Freeman, Roger|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||French, Douglas|
|Bowden, Andrew||Fry, Peter|
|Bowis, John||Gale, Roger|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Gallie, Phil|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Brazier, Julian||Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan|
|Bright, Graham||Garnier, Edward|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Gill, Christopher|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Gillan, Cheryl|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Burns, Simon||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Burt, Alistair||Gorst, John|
|Butler, Peter||Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)|
|Butterfill, John||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Grylls, Sir Michael|
|Carttiss, Michael||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Cash, William||Hague, William|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie|
|Chaplin, Mrs Judith||(Epsom-Ewell)|
|Churchill, Mr||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Clappison, James||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)||Hannam, Sir John|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Coe, Sebastian||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Congdon, David||Hawkins, Nick|
|Conway, Derek||Hawksley, Warren|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Hayes, Jerry|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Heald, Oliver|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Couchman, James||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Cran, James||Hendry, Charles|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Patnick, Irvine|
|Hicks, Robert||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)||Pawsey, James|
|Horam, John||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Pickles, Eric|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Redwood, John|
|Jack, Michael||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Richards, Rod|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Riddick, Graham|
|Jessel, Toby||Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Robathan, Andrew|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Key, Robert||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Knapman, Roger||Sackville, Tom|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Knox, David||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Shersby, Michael|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Sims, Roger|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Legg, Barry||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Mark||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Soames, Nicholas|
|Lidington, David||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Lord, Michael||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Luff, Peter||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Spring, Richard|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Sproat, Iain|
|MacKay, Andrew||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|Maclean, David||Steen, Anthony|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stephen, Michael|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Stern, Michael|
|Madel, David||Stewart, Allan|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Streeter, Gary|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Sweeney, Walter|
|Malone, Gerald||Sykes, John|
|Mans, Keith||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Marland, Paul||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Marlow, Tony||Taylor, John M. (Solihull)|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)|
|Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Thomason, Roy|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Mellor, Rt Hon David||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Merchant, Piers||Thurnham, Peter|
|Milligan, Stephen||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Mills, Iain||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Tracey, Richard|
|Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)||Trend, Michael|
|Moate, Roger||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Viggers, Peter|
|Moss, Malcolm||Walden, George|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Waller, Gary|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Ward, John|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Norris, Steve||Watts, John|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Wells, Bowen|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Ottaway, Richard||Whitney, Ray|
|Page, Richard||Whittingdale, John|
|Paice, James||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Wilkinson, John||Yeo, Tim|
|Willetts, David||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)||Tellers for the Ayes|
|Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)||Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Dewar, Donald|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Dixon, Don|
|Ainger, Nick||Dobson, Frank|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Donohoe, Brian H.|
|Allen, Graham||Dowd, Jim|
|Alton, David||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Eagle, Ms Angela|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Eastham, Ken|
|Ashton, Joe||Enright, Derek|
|Austin-Walker, John||Etherington, Bill|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Barnes, Harry||Fatchett, Derek|
|Battle, John||Faulds, Andrew|
|Bayley, Hugh||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Beckett, Margaret||Fisher, Mark|
|Bell, Stuart||Flynn, Paul|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)|
|Bennett, Andrew F.||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Benton, Joe||Foulkes, George|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Fraser, John|
|Berry, Dr. Roger||Fyfe, Maria|
|Betts, Clive||Galbraith, Sam|
|Blair, Tony||Galloway, George|
|Blunkett, David||Garrett, John|
|Boateng, Paul||George, Bruce|
|Boyce, Jimmy||Gerrard, Neil|
|Boyes, Roland||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Bradley, Keith||Godsiff, Roger|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Gordon, Mildred|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Gould, Bryan|
|Burden, Richard||Graham, Thomas|
|Byers, Stephen||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Caborn, Richard||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Callaghan, Jim||Grocott, Bruce|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Gunnell, John|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Hain, Peter|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Hall, Mike|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Hanson, David|
|Cann, Jamie||Hardy, Peter|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Clapham, Michael||Harvey, Nick|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Henderson, Doug|
|Clelland, David||Heppell, John|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Hill, Keith (Streatham)|
|Coffey, Ann||Hinchliffe, David|
|Cohen, Harry||Hoey, Kate|
|Connarty, Michael||Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Home Robertson, John|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Hood, Jimmy|
|Corbett, Robin||Hoon, Geoffrey|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Corston, Ms Jean||Hoyle, Doug|
|Cousins, Jim||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Cox, Tom||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Cryer, Bob||Hughes, Roy (Newport E)|
|Cummings, John||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Hutton, John|
|Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)||Illsley, Eric|
|Cunningham, Dr John (C'p'l'nd)||Ingram, Adam|
|Dafis, Cynog||Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)|
|Darling, Alistair||Jamieson, David|
|Davidson, Ian||Janner, Greville|
|Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)||Johnston, Sir Russell|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Denham, John||Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)||Pope, Greg|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Jowell, Tessa||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Keen, Alan||Prescott, John|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)||Purchase, Ken|
|Khabra, Piara S.||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)||Radice, Giles|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Randall, Stuart|
|Leighton, Ron||Raynsford, Nick|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Reid, Dr John|
|Lewis, Terry||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Litherland, Robert||Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)|
|Livingstone, Ken||Roche, Mrs. Barbara|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Rogers, Allan|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Rooker, Jeff|
|Loyden, Eddie||Rooney, Terry|
|Lynne, Ms Liz||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|McAllion, John||Ruddock, Joan|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Salmond, Alex|
|McCartney, Ian||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Macdonald, Calum||Sheerman, Barry|
|McFall, John||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|McKelvey, William||Short, Clare|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Simpson, Alan|
|McLeish, Henry||Skinner, Dennis|
|McMaster, Gordon||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|Madden, Max||Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)|
|Mahon, Alice||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Mandelson, Peter||Snape, Peter|
|Marek, Dr John||Soley, Clive|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)||Spellar, John|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)|
|Martlew, Eric||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Maxton, John||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Meacher, Michael||Stevenson, George|
|Meale, Alan||Stott, Roger|
|Michael, Alun||Strang, Dr. Gavin|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Straw, Jack|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Milburn, Alan||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Miller, Andrew||Turner, Dennis|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Tyler, Paul|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Vaz, Keith|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Morley, Elliot||Wallace, James|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)||Walley, Joan|
|Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Warded, Gareth (Gower)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Watson, Mike|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Mudie, George||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Mullin, Chris||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Murphy, Paul||Wilson, Brian|
|O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)||Winnick, David|
|O'Brien, William (Normanton)||Wise, Audrey|
|O'Hara, Edward||Worthington, Tony|
|Olner, William||Wray, Jimmy|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Pendry, Tom||Tellers for the Noes|
|Pickthall, Colin||Mr. Jack Thompson and Mr. Peter Kilfoyle.|
|Pike, Peter L.|