I beg to move,
That this House asks the Government to reconsider its position on the Teachers Pay Review Body award for 1995–96, because of the impact of increased pupil numbers, and the threat to standards, opportunity and achievement from the shortfall in funding experienced in many local authority areas and the vast majority of schools in England and Wales.
The time has come for Conservative Members to make up their minds whether they are in favour of saving the standard and opportunity for education for children in their schools and communities, or whether they are in favour of saving their own skins by attempting to salt away cash for a tax bribe in the general election.
On this occasion, they cannot win, because if they take away money, as they are doing, if they insist that tax cuts in November and possibly in 1996 are to be preferred to putting resources into maintaining the number of teachers, into keeping down class sizes in their schools, they will be punished as surely as night follows day by an electorate who are sick of duplicity, of people pretending that they are interested in childrens education, in what is happening in their schools, and then turning up in the House and voting the opposite way.
Not at the moment.
We are not asking Conservative Members to condemn their Government and their Cabinet. The British people are doing that effectively enough as it is. We are asking Conservative Members merely to request their Government to think again. Every Conservative Member who votes today against our motion, who votes down the opportunity for the Cabinet to give a second thought to what is happening to children in our schools throughout the country, will surely reap their reward, because we will ensure that every newspaper, local radio station and elector in his or her area knows which way that Member voted.
Do Conservative Members back the Secretary of State for Education, who whispers in dark corners to education corespondents that she cares about what is happening in schools and that she has been fighting a battle with her colleagues in Cabinet? Do they do that, or do they back those who believe that she has had enough?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in Leicestershire, Labour councillors supported Liberal Democrat councillors in producing a budget that will mean cuts, whereas the Conservative councillors on Leicestershire county council produced a budget which would have increased spending on education by 2.85 per cent.? The increase is down to just over 2 per cent. because of a Labour-Liberal Democrat budget. What will the hon. Gentleman tell the newspapers about the way that councillors in Leicestershire voted?
People will say, Do we believe those who have inflicted these cuts from the centre on every county and on every school in the country, or do we believe parents, teachers and governors who know what is happening in their schools? It is not Labour and Liberal councillors who have inflicted these cuts: it is Conservative Members and their Cabinet.
I will not give way.
The Secretary of State knows the truth. She is kind, well-meaning and very likeable. Unfortunately, she is totally ineffective. She is overridden and overruled, a schoolmistress who has turned into the bedevilled schoolgirl. The House does not need to take my word for that: it can take the word of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who only last week said:
Gillian is making excellent progress and a satisfactory amount of finance is on offer.
Gillian is not making satisfactory progress: she is not making any progress at all. She has pleaded with her Cabinet colleagues for more money. While the Foreign Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade wring their hands and tell the people of Oxfordshire that they are in favour of looking after their children, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who are in command.
The hon. Gentleman speaks about progress. Perhaps he could help the debate to make progress. How much money would the Opposition donate for the proposition that he puts to the House? It would help the House to know how much money the Opposition would like to spend to replace the so-called cuts in education.
The right hon. Lady speaks about so-called cuts in education. That shows no sense of reality about what is happening in the classroom. [Interruption.] I will answer the question, which is more than Conservative Members ever do on the radio—when they are not too frightened go on radio to answer questions about their policies. I will take questions and lectures from Conservative Members when they tell me about the £744 million that they spent on changing the national curriculum, changing tests and bedeviling education with turmoil for six years.
I have made it absolutely clear, and I repeat, that, when an independent review body report is accepted by a Government who have abolished negotiations between employers and employees, they have an absolute obligation, moral and political, to pay for it. We would have paid for it from moneys that the Government have cut from the projected expenditure on education that they promised at the general election. They promised tax cuts, but they increased taxes. They promised to increase public spending, but they are cutting it for every child in the land.
My hon. Friend is correct when he says that people out there know precisely who is to blame. On Saturday, 20,000 people went on a march through central London. Most of them had never been on a demonstration before. They included parents, school kids, and people who had never been to London. They know who is guilty in this case.
Another 5,000 from Derbyshire have been demonstrating today. To a man and a woman, they know who the guilty people are. It would be relatively easy to find the money if we started using the £35 billion that has been spent keeping more than 4 million people idle, and if we started taking back the £50 billion that has been given to the richest 10 per cent. in tax cuts. That is the way to improve our education system. Let us have smaller classes and more teachers employed.
I always welcome the powerful interventions of my hon. Friend. He is backed today by 3,000 people from Derbyshire—[Interruption.] No, I said that he was backed today by 3,000 people. [Interruption.] He is backed by thousands of people from Derbyshire. I would send Conservative Members out there to count them but, unfortunately, not many of them would be up to it.
Let me quote not Labour Members, parents, governors or teachers, but the words of Conservative Members. What about the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), a former Minister with responsibility for education? Four former Ministers with responsibility for education have publicly announced that they believe that the Government should think again. We believe that even the Secretary of States predecessor thinks that she should think again. Some of us suspect that the right hon. Lady thinks that she should think again, but she cannot get enough support from Conservative Back Benchers.
No. The hon. Gentleman should listen to the quote from the hon. Member for Wantage, who said:
But in my view, the Government response to the teachers pay award is quite indefensible.
No Labour Member could put it more clearly than that; nor could we put it more clearly that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), who today repeated on Channel 4 that he felt that he could not vote with the Government tonight unless more money was made available to his county of Warwickshire.
Which of those wonderful people shall I give way to? I give way to the hon. Member over there on the right.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the bind that Gloucestershire schools find themselves in is the result of the profligacy of Liberal and Labour councillors on Gloucestershire county council, and that debt servicing is the third biggest item in that councils budget? That is why the council is threatening to impose cuts on schools.
The response will be clear and decisive in both the local elections on 5 May and in the general election. People will deal clearly with Conservative Members who wring their hands and wash them of their responsibility, including their responsibility for other peoples children.
I shall not give way. I have given way sufficiently for the time being.
Conservative Members, and certainly the right hon. Ladys colleagues in the Cabinet, would have understood what she was talking about in her famous letter telling them what the results of their actions would be if their children were in state education at state schools. The more people send their children to state education and state schools, the more they understand what is going on. If I let them in, some of the Conservative Members who are desperate to intervene might tell us immediately where their children go to school, where they went to school, or what sort of cuts their children are experiencing. This is not a game; it is about childrens education. This is about every parent in every school that is affected feeling the result of Tory party policy. This is about those heads and governors trying to carry out their responsibilities having to sit down in the next three months and decide which teacher, which care assistant, which technician and which school secretary should be given a redundancy notice. That is what it is about: real people and real children in education up and down the country.
Both my daughters are in state schools in Kent, How would the hon. Gentleman justify funds being taken away from that school and all other schools in Kent by the Labour and Liberal Democrat-controlled county council, which has spent between £100,000 and £250,000 on propaganda to try to talk parents out of voting for what they have always wanted for their schoolsgrant-maintained status?
I just wonder what the Grant Maintained Schools Foundation is doing with public money provided by the Department for Education. It has spent £250,000 in the past year on hospitality alone for those campaigning for grant-maintained status, including providing hotel accommodation and travelling costs for heads and teachers from grant-maintained schools, who clearly have time to travel the country persuading others.
After the intervention last time from a Kent Member about how people were spending money on take-away meals in the epitome of the competitive tendering, out-of-house catering of the future, I will take no more interventions from hon. Members from Kent.
Self-delusion is now commonplace in a Cabinet that is completely split down the middle on education.
I will give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.
Let us take the Prime Ministers words on 16 March. He claimed in the House that there were
two administrators for every three teachers in education.—[Official Report, 16 March 1995; Vol. 256, c. 1021.]
This is a Prime Minister who did not pass anything at school, never mind the 11-plus.
No, I am making a point that I intend to finish.
The Prime Minister claimed on 16 March during Prime Ministers questions that there were two administrators for every three teachers. We have checked that out: 109,000 of the non-teaching staff turned out to be people employed directly under the devolution of budgets under local management of schools as school caretakers, clerical workers, care assistants and technicians; 150,000 turned out to be manual staff such as those working on school meals and on grass cutting; and just 57,000 of the 316,000 turned out to be people working in the central departments of education authorities.
That figure includes educational psychologists, people working on truancy and educational welfare and youth officers. One in seven who themselves are not administrators turn out to be the result of the mathematical genius that the Prime Minister obviously employs in the Cabinet Office.
We know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is geographically and historically challenged; we know that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is ethically challenged; and we know that the Prime Minister is mathematically challenged. They cannot add up, and they cannot tell the truth. [Interruption.] I will not give way, because I want to make one further point on the statistics used by the Secretary of State.
Last week, she claimed that the spending on children since 1979 had increased by 50 per cent. The real figure, because I have checked it, is a real-terms increase of 4 per cent., with a 5 per cent. cut in secondary education, before the £200-a-head cut in standard spending assessment this year.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A moment ago, the House heard the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) make comments from the Dispatch Box to the effect that senior members of the Government could not tell the truth. I distinctly heard him say that. I ask through you, Madam Speaker, whether that is a proper use of words. Does it not transgress the rules of the House?
I take your ruling entirely, Madam Speaker. What I was clearly referring to was the statistical truth of the misinterpretation of the facts which were being dealt with by the Prime Minister, and the obvious statistical difficulty that the Secretary of State herself has with similar information. The Secretary of State talked about the budget for books and equipment having gone up by 55 per cent. It turns out to be less than half that figure. I am using statistics from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy—
Order. If I find tomorrow in Hansard that the hon. Member for Brightside has used language in this House which I find unacceptable, I shall return to the matter tomorrow. There seems to be some dispute now, but I must leave it until I see the written report.
Let me help with the Hansard report by making it clear that it is not always the case that those who do not present the truth deliberately lie. I am sure that the Prime Minister did not mean to tell a statistical inexactitude when he misled the House on 16 March.
What of the Secretary of States claim that the repair and maintenance budget for schools had risen by 15 per cent. per pupil? The actual sum, according to CIPFA, has gone down from £84 per pupil to £83 per pupil while the Conservatives have been in office. The position is entirely different.
The position is also entirely different over whether Britain spends more money than many of its European and OECD counterparts. The Secretary of State, on radio last week, claimed that France spent less of its national income on education than Britain. It is not true. France spent 5.4 per cent. of its gross domestic product and Britain spent 5.3 per cent. The Secretary of State claimed—
No, I shall not.
The Secretary of State claimed that the Netherlands spent less than the United Kingdom. In fact, it spent 6.8 per cent. of GDP, which, of course, for anyone who can calculate, is 1.5 per cent. more than the United Kingdom spent. Canada and Sweden and the United States all spent more than Britain as a proportion of their GDP on education.
I shall give way to my hon. Friend, who has been very patient.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in Kent, the SSA per secondary school pupil is £13 less than it was in 1992–93? What is more, rather than cutting spending, the council has increased education funding by £11 million. It will still find, therefore, that it has to cut £8 million from areas of spending which include discretionary awards, schools building maintenance, schools delegated funds and management savings. I do not think that that ties up with what the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) had to say.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: Where is he now?] I am sure that one of the hon. Members who represents Kent is here to be enlightened and to take on board what my hon. Friend said.
The simple truth of the matter this afternoon is whether the British people believe a discredited and enfeebled Government, or whether they believe parents, governors and teachers in their own communities about what is happening around them. I presume that the Secretary of State was being honest when she sent her letter to Cabinet colleagues claiming what the result would be of the kind of settlement that the Government eventually inflicted on schools. I believe that she meant that there would be 7,000 to 10,000 redundancies among teachers and that class sizes would shoot up. I believe that she knew that in many schools, as at the Nicholas Chamberlain school in Bedworth, Warwickshire, there would be up to 10 redundancies for teaching staff.
I believe that the Secretary of State knows what the impact of the spending cuts will be, and I challenge her publicly to ask her Cabinet colleagues to think again about the settlement about which she warned, and which she said would mean cuts in the schools that we have been talking about. I challenge her to be honest and to say what she really thinks about the way in which her education policies are impinging on the British people. Otherwise, she will be a fairy tale turned into a nightmare—an Edward Scissorhands who ends up cutting, rather than being praised for having overturned the previous Secretary of States policies.
I presume that the right hon. Lady and her colleagues will have the temerity to acknowledge that what we say is true. It is true that spending in general should be aimed at improving standards and opportunities. There is no better way of giving children the necessary prior attainments and start in life than to ensure that all three and four-year-olds whose parents so wish have a place at a nursery school.
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the need for improved nursery education, but does he agree that, throughout the United Kingdom, parents who have children with recognised educational needs know that not enough is being spent to help those children to achieve their real potential?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. That is exactly what the debate is all about.
I gather that the Secretary of State has hidden talents and does a good imitation of Baroness Thatcher; she is a sort of Rory Bremner of the House of Commons. Perhaps she would care to mimic Baroness Thatcher by committing herself, as Baroness Thatcher did in 1972, to providing a nursery place, not a voucher, for every child whose parents want one.
Will the right hon. Lady confirm that, under the Conservatives in the late 1970s, Kent county council undertook a major study of the impact of the voucher system in nursery education? Kent spent £9 million of public money on that experiment, and then abandoned it.
I am not joking, and the people of Kent are not joking when they recall what the experiment cost them.
Yes, it cost £9 million to undertake a prolonged experiment in one part of Kent. The fact that Conservative Members do not know what happened is a good reason why they should start to listen and to learn, instead of talking about inflicting vouchers on the rest of Britain although they failed in one of the authorities that the Conservatives controlled.
The Secretary of State knows perfectly well what the dangers of vouchers are. She has said as much, as was reported by The Independent on 19 October last year. She knows that the voucher proposal would be a disaster, because she understands basic economics, even though her Cabinet colleagues may not.
Where supply does not exceed demand, a voucher system can assist and provide choice and diversity only for those who can top the voucher up with their own money. If the voucher system can provide enough cash for a place for every nursery-age child who needs one, we shall end up with transaction costs that increase bureaucracy without creating one extra place.
If we want to hear an independent view, we should ask the commercial business director of Kindercare, which is moving in from the United States. He told newspapers only a week ago that the firm was targeting Britain because of the high cost of nursery provision in this country compared with every other nation in the European Union and because of the sparsity of places here in comparison with our European counterparts. This is an area ripe for commercial development because the Government will not fulfil the pledge made by the Prime Minister at last years Conservative party conference that the Government would provide nursery places for four-year-olds.
Where is the money? Where is the promise? What is the target? What sort of places is the Secretary of State proposing to provide? What commitment is there from a Secretary of State who wrote to her own colleagues recently to suggest—really, to demand—that they should berate Labour and Liberal Democrat authorities for providing nursery education? Item 2 of her letter asks her hon. Friends to discover to what extent the local education authority is expanding non-statutory services—for example, services for under-fives—at the expense of statutory education services.
That has brought a crowd of Conservative Members to their feet.
The previous leader of the Labour party came to St Marys hall in Ealing and to Northolt on April 29 last year and said that, if the Labour party won Ealing borough council, it would provide a nursery place for every child of nursery age. That was a promise. The Labour party did win the election—undeservedly—but not a single extra nursery place has been provided.
There are two responses to that. First, we have not seen the beginning of the fulfilment of the pledge made by the Prime Minister six months ago, never mind the pledge of a local authority. Secondly, how dare the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) have the cheek to berate a Labour authority for not providing places after 11 months when the Secretary of State has asked him and his colleagues to berate local authorities for trying to provide such places?
The Secretary of States letter berates authorities for spending money on nursery education, and tells her hon. Friends to find out the facts. Presumably the hon. Gentleman found out the facts when he approached the authority at the request of the Secretary of State. He did so not to berate it for failing to provide places, but to find out whether places had been provided, in order that the Secretary of State could then criticise that authority.
It is time that Conservative Members stopped blaming everyone else, and started blaming themselves. It is time for them to stop whingeing and criticising and to stand up and take their medicine, as they will do at the general election.
What about surplus places, which the Secretary of State talked about in item 3 of her letter? Most of her facts turn out to be incorrect. She berates Warwickshire for having 19 per cent. extra places, but a plan which would reduce surplus places in Warwickshire to only 7 per cent. has been given to the Secretary of State. Let the right hon. Lady make the decisions.
Targets on surplus places were set in June last year for local authorities across the country. Let us be clear who is responsible for the failure to allow authorities to remove surplus places. The Government allow schools to opt out in order for them to escape playing their part in the planning and configuration of services, and in contributing to the removal of surplus places.
What choice do schools have when they are being told to sack teachers, to increase class sizes and to stop providing nursery education? What choice do parents have when the Government introduce selection so that only some children can attend a school which, previously, everyone preferred to enter? What choice will parents have when the Government bring forward the legislation that they have floated in the pre-emptive Queens Speech, suggesting that, once again, not all the nations children but only a few will have access to capital funding, which the Government intend to make available only to grant-maintained schools?
I hope that it is nonsense, but I give this pledge: whatever the Government make available to the few, and whatever changes they bring about in defining the public sector borrowing requirement in terms of allowing spending on education and the public-private finance initiative, we shall make available to every child, every school and every parent. We are not interested in looking after only the few; we are not interested in merely taking care of 5, 6 or 7 per cent. of the nations children; we are interested in investing in standards and opportunity for every child in every school.
The Government have run out of steam and are in turmoil. They are at the end of their tether. They are a spent force, scrambling around for ideas—any ideas and any initiatives. Everyone knows that, under the Tories, they are worse off, because they pay more and get less. On 4 May, in the local elections, and at the time of the general election, whenever it comes, people will give their verdict on the Government: their spending; their cuts; and their attack on parents, teachers, governors and the future of our children. That is why, today, we challenge every Member of this House to vote for our motion and save the children of our nation.
I beg to move, to leave out from House to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
welcomes the substantial increase in the real level of education spending since 1979; notes that in a tough settlement overall local authorities will still be able to spend more next year than in 1994–95; looks to them to set sensible priorities; welcomes the substantial improvement in standards of achievement by pupils in recent years, as demonstrated by examination and test results and by school inspection reports; and applauds the Governments education policies which are further driving up education standards, and giving parents more choice and information for the benefit of their children..
The best thing that I can say about the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) is that it was predictable. It was predictable in its concern for input rather than output; in its desire to pour in taxpayers money without ensuring proper value for money; in its pretence that the Labour party did not oppose each and every measure to raise standards and provide opportunities passed through the House in the past 16 years; in its dealing with myths and scare stories; and, as ever, in choosing to ignore the facts.
It may help the House if I begin by setting out the facts again. On funding, I admit that it is a tough year. I have maintained that from the start. We are talking not about a cut in funding, however, but about a rise. We have increased funding in education by more than 1 per cent., which is a good deal in such a tight year for public expenditure.
The Secretary of State said that cuts are not involved, yet the figures for Durham show that its standard spending assessment this year has declined from £208 million—[HON. MEMBERS: What about school rolls?] School rolls have increased to an extent that would involve, if Durham were fully funded, another £1 million, but its SSA has gone down by £2 million. How does the Secretary of State square that fact with her statement that it has gone up?
This years settlement allows all authorities to manage if they choose their priorities carefully. That is the position. It cannot be denied because, as I shall demonstrate, many of them are doing just that.
We should put the latest increase in its proper context. It follows a 2.4 per cent. increase for 1994–95 and constant increases in education spending since 1979. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) questioned the figures that said that spending per pupil had increased in real terms by almost 50 per cent., spending on books and equipment by 55 per cent. and so on. I remind him that he is indeed using Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy statistics, but statistics that have not been used for 10 years.
In that context, I am confident in repeating that spending on repairs and maintenance has increased by 15 per cent. and that spending on support staff is up by 135 per cent.
Mr. William OBrien:
Will the Secretary of State accept an invitation to come and tell the parents and governors of schools in my constituency that they have received an increase in accordance with her statement now, when in fact they are confronted by difficulties in meeting the budget to ensure that the education to which children are entitled, and which they need, will be provided this year?
Every parent in my constituency knows that the Government are responsible for cuts in education. If the Secretary of State is to be fair and just to people, she should admit that the Government need to put more money into education if we are to succeed in providing the quality of education to which people are entitled.
I would say to the hon. Gentleman, echoing what was said some time ago by the hon. Member for Brightside, that Her Majestys chief inspectors report was
about as unbiased as you can get.
That unbiased report said about resources:
In overall terms the provision of resources is satisfactory.
The hon. Member for Brightside has also sought to question how we stand internationally. Perhaps I should explain to him that he has muddled two sets of figures. We indeed spend a larger proportion of our public expenditure on education than do Japan, France, Germany or the Netherlands. Public expenditure on education in the United Kingdom accounts for a larger share of gross domestic product than it does in Germany or Japan. Those are facts. The hon. Gentleman muddled the two.
I should be grateful to the Secretary of State if we could place the matter on the record once and for all. The normal assessment of comparisons is with GDP; everyone knows that it is. Will she confirm this afternoon that France and the Netherlands—which she said on the radio last week spent less than we do—spend more as a proportion of GDP?
Public expenditure on education in the UK accounts for a larger share of GDP than it does in Germany or Japan. We spend a larger proportion of our public expenditure on education than do Japan or France or Germany or the Netherlands, as I said on the radio last week, and as I have said frequently since. Those are facts. Our record of massive and increasing funding provides the clearest possible proof that education is, has always been and will remain a Government priority.
Earlier, the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) referred to local authority funding. Does the Secretary of State realise that 13 authorities have domestic rates arrears of £167 million, 14 local authorities have community charge arrears of £347 million and 18 local authorities have council tax arrears of £160 million? That is more than £700 million in local taxation that has not been collected by Labour authorities. Does she also realise that the worst local authorities in terms of domestic rates are Camden and Liverpool, the worst in the context of community charge are Liverpool and Haringey and the worst in the context of council tax are Birmingham and, would you believe, Hackney?
I would certainly believe all that. As a result of those uncollected arrears, the money wasted on surplus places, the money in balances and the money that has been spent on clerical and administrative staff which might have been spent on front-line services, the independent review body found the pay award affordable.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. Does she agree with or condemn the action taken by schools in Derbyshire which have closed on training days so that staff can come to London and lobby the House of Commons? Perhaps my right hon. Friend might investigate that action and see whether the Opposition agree with it. Will she further explain why the county council in Derbyshire holds back £720 per pupil while neighbouring Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire—which are both Labour authorities—hold back £570?
I am very puzzled by the disclosure of my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire. Can it be that Derbyshire is so in funds that it can afford to pay for supply cover for teacher absences? Has it closed schools so that teachers can take part in demonstrations? That seems absolutely extraordinary. If the position is as my hon. Friend has described, it may be a matter for the district auditor; I do not know. It seems extraordinary and it certainly destroys at a stroke the myth that Derbyshire is hard up for funds.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Before she moves on from the issue of financial statistics, will she confirm that the average reduction in standard spending assessment per pupil in real terms in this years settlement is £50 per primary school pupil and £194 per secondary school pupil? Will she further confirm that her 50 per cent. increase analysis is founded upon inflation based on the retail prices index and not upon an educationally based rate of increase?
I have already made the position absolutely clear: all local authorities can increase their spending on education this year if they choose to identify their priorities. I have already said that the CIPFA statistics which the hon. Member for Brightside cited are 10 years out of date.
I will give way later, but I shall now make some progress.
Local authority funding accounts for a quarter of all public spending. It therefore cannot be immune from tough decisions and economic reality. Public borrowing must come down if we are to keep arein on inflation and increase prosperity and jobs. As the Audit Commission has said on a number of occasions and in a number of reports, local education authorities can cut their own costs. They still spend millions on running their central bureaucracies and on maintaining surplus places in schools.
As I said earlier, last year an Audit Commission report identified scope for saving half a billion pounds on the pay bill for local authorities administrative and clerical staff. The number of non-manual staff employed by councils increased by 90,000 between 1987 and 1993. The Audit Commission found that less than half that increase resulted from central Government initiatives. If local authorities exploit opportunities like that, they will have more money to spend on teachers in the classroom. It is a question of management and the ability to take hard decisions.
My right hon. Friend has correctly drawn attention to the appalling record of Labour local authorities in favouring town halls rather than spending money in the classroom. Does she agree that it is entirely predictable that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) did not mention the record of his local authority during his speech? This year Sheffield has reduced the proportion of its total budget to be spent in the classroom, and no less than 15 per cent. of the total education budget will go on town hall costs. That is one of the highest levels in the country.
I could expect anything from an authority that a couple of years ago increased spending on leisure by 109 per cent. and reduced spending on education by 15 per cent. Those were the priorities of that authority and now it has the temerity to say that it has a problem.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the profligate Labour and Liberal councillors in Gloucestershire, whom I mentioned earlier, are top-slicing their education budget by 21 per cent. compared with 16 per cent. in next-door Wiltshire?
Many authorities do far better than Gloucestershire in making funds available directly to schools. That is just what Gloucestershire should be doing.
A large number of the letters I receive every day on the subject from Rotherham are from Conservative voters—from managers and, if I may say so, from her people. Her description of education getting better has absolutely no correspondence with reality in South Yorkshire. Rotherham is not an extravagant council. It has cut by 40 per cent. its delayered staff in the education department, every single school in Rotherham is having to cut teacher numbers this year, despite massive cuts across the board in council expenditure. When will the Secretary of State speak for the children of Rotherham and England and not for the Treasury and tax cuts of the future?
The best way for the hon. Gentleman to speak for the children and parents of Rotherham is for him to ask precisely the questions of that authority that are being asked by my hon. Friends, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland). That would be the way for the hon. Gentleman to protect the interests of his constituents. However, I have some interesting examples. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I shall take Bedfordshire as my first example. The budget passed by the ruling combination of Liberal and Labour councillors represents a 3.5 per cent. cut in the schools budget, which could mean a reduction of 200 teacher posts. I wonder why the authority did not accept the alternative budget put forward by the Conservative group, which would have reduced the schools budget by only 2 per cent. and which would have been able to fund the whole of the teachers pay settlement. It would have taken £250,000 less out of county council balances and still included growth items to cover nursery education, special needs and increases in pupil numbers in mainstream and special schools.
Why would any responsible council not have accepted that budget? Perhaps Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors in Bedfordshire are more interested in making a political point than in serving their communities.
Why did Labour Lancashire slash its schools budgets by £19 million against the officers suggestion of £13 million, meanwhile reducing its administration costs by only £500,000? It rejected a Conservative proposal to set up a working group under an independent chairman to try to resolve some of the problems and restore some of the education cuts. I wonder whether those councillors are also more interested in political point scoring than serving the children of Lancashire.
In Cheshire, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat budget will fund the teachers pay award in full and it will increase spending in primary and secondary schools so that there will be almost £10 million extra for schools—7 per cent. above the education SSA. The budget proposals put before Cheshire council by the Labour group did not include funding the teachers pay award in full and provided only 1.2 per cent. above the SSA, leaving schools with a shortfall of £3 to £4 million. The vast majority of other authorities are coping—from Conservative Buckinghamshire to Labour Birmingham.
Local education authorities are in the best position to ensure that money goes where it is most needed in the light of local priorities. Many of them are doing that responsibly, focusing on front-line services.
I should like to make a little progress.
I am grateful for the level-headedness of councillors, governors and teachers who are working out manageable responses to the settlement and maximising the use of resources to secure the best possible education for their pupils.
The Secretary of State mentioned Buckinghamshire and praised Conservatives in local government for doing such a good job, thus equating Buckinghamshire with an absence of problems. Why, then, did her hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) send one of his constituents a version of the standard letter issued by the Department for Education and Conservative central office attacking Labour authorities, which attacked Tory-controlled Buckinghamshire county council for doing all the things that the right hon. Lady has just attacked Labour county councils for doing?
To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he missed my passing reference—and congratulations—to Birmingham city council, which I believe is Labour-controlled. I also mentioned the Liberal Democrats in connection with Cheshire. As for my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler), his correspondence is his own affair. Indeed, he may be in the House to speak for himself.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Buckinghamshire county council over-provided for the teachers pay award and was thus able to fund it in full? Moreover, because of its prudent financial management over many years, the council has been able to make a substantial contribution from its balance to protect its education budget.
I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying the position of Buckinghamshire.
Although tough, this years settlement is manageable, as many authorities are proving. The Government are committed to implementing review body recommendations in full unless there are clear and compelling reasons to the contrary. We think that there are no such reasons this year, and I am announcing this afternoon our conclusion that it would be right to implement the teachers pay recommendation in full: teachers deserve no less.
I began by describing the speech of the hon. Member for Brightside as predictable. It was; but he was less predictable when he chose to extol standards and opportunity. In fact, it was difficult to believe what we were hearing from a party that had opposed those principles at every turn for the past 16 years.
I am delighted to talk about standards and opportunity, because Conservative Members know a good deal about them. Let us start with the action that we have taken—as opposed to mere chatter—in regard to standards and opportunity in education. When we came to office in 1979, we were faced with an education system that was based on inputs and took no account of outputs. This afternoon, the hon. Member for Brightside has demonstrated yet again that Labour is happy for taxpayers money to be spent and is not interested in what it buys.
In 1979, there was no measure for what children should learn in schools; but a basic curriculum is central to the raising of standards. We therefore established such a curriculum, which laid proper emphasis on the basics of literacy and numeracy and provided a broad and balanced programme for all pupils aged between five and 16. To ensure that all that is working, we have introduced a framework of tests and assessment.
The Office of Standards in Education—Ofsted—reports that the national curriculum, which, sadly, was mindlessly opposed by Opposition Members, is already improving the teaching of mathematics, and that primary science can be counted a major success. Those improvements will continue. We can also applaud the steady improvement in GCSE results in recent years.
My right hon. Friend speaks of educational opportunities. Can she explain why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday appeared to close the door on the new educational opportunity offered by the entry of Manchester grammar school into the state sector? I hope that she will not mention the assisted places scheme; there is all the difference in the world between doling out the odd scholarship in a lordly fashion and opening the best schools in the country to the best and brightest brains.
The proposals for Manchester grammar school are extremely interesting and I know that my hon. Friend has does an enormous amount of work on the interface between the maintained and independent sectors. My hon. Friend has discovered and expressed many interesting viewpoints. I take this opportunity publicly to invite him to tea, to talk to me about them. [Interruption.] A number of ribald suggestions are coming from the Opposition Benches. I can only say that hon. Members are becoming over-excited.
We applaud the steady improvement in GCSE results in recent years. In 1989, just under 33 per cent. of 15-year olds gained five or more GCSEs at grade C or above. By 1994, the proportion had increased to more than 43 per cent. Those results and the record of all schools in achieving them are clear for all to see in our national performance tables, which we understand Labour Members now support. That is a good thing, because the tables also show performance in another vital area—truancy.
I was delighted that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) condemned truancy the other day, yet it is curious that he and his party voted against all our measures to combat and to record truancy. They talk now about standards with all the zeal of the recent convert, yet for 16 years all our moves to raise standards were met with unremitting opposition from Labour.
The Secretary of State talks about standards and opportunities. Nearly every school in my constituency faces cuts in teaching staff. I have met head teachers, and they blame not the authority but the Secretary of State for failing to fund the teachers pay increase. How will those cuts improve standards and opportunities in my constituency?
I have given examples of authorities which are managing perfectly well with this years settlement, even though it is tough. I advise the hon. Gentleman to take lessons from the examples that I gave.
The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) suggested that the SSA for Durham for the coming year will be less than for the current year. I checked the figures with the Library. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that Durhams SSA for the coming year will be in excess of that for the current year? Despite the fact that the hon. Member for Durham, North-West is a member of the shadow Treasury team, she got her figures wrong. She failed to take into account the children in Durham who are educated outside her county.
That is a matter for rejoicing for the hon. Lady, and I can see how delighted she is.
Independent inspection is crucial to raising standards. The Opposition seem to prefer a system in which primary schools could expect such an inspection once every 200 years and secondary schools once every 50 years, but we would not accept that. Our new inspection system provides schools with a systematic and regular assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. With that diagnosis, schools can set clear targets for improvement.
Overall, inspection is indicating good standards across the system, but it is also confirming that a minority of schools have serious weaknesses or are failing. Where standards are unacceptably low, we will intervene. Our powers to do so have galvanised LEAs into action to improve their weakest schools. Most schools are making good progress while others are moving towards closure. Either way, pupils can look forward to better education. The policy is working.
The key to higher standards is good teaching, which is why we established the Teacher Training Agency. On Monday, I attended the launch of its first corporate plan—an impressive catalogue of activities, all designed to raise standards. The purpose of the agency is to improve the quality of teaching and of teacher education and training, in order to improve pupils achievement and the quality of their learning.
Who could oppose a body with such a purpose? Who could oppose bringing together activities previously scattered among various agencies and Departments?
Who could oppose setting up one body committed and able to concentrate on the fight for higher teaching standards? I think that someone is about to suggest himself.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that thousands of people have come down from Derbyshire today, and that tens of thousands have signed a petition, because all the words that she has used about higher standards stick in their gullets? Teachers, especially experienced teachers, are to be sacked; class sizes are to rise; school buildings are in disrepair. One of the greatest causes of their resentment is the fact that she does not reply to letters written to her by governors, parents and teachers. The information that she has given the House today is wholly misleading in respect of many local education authorities.
I must tell the right hon. Gentleman what I told my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) earlier. If the county council is in such financial straits, I do not understand how it has managed to provide supply cover to enable so many teachers to attend todays demonstration. That seems an extraordinary way of identifying priorities. If it is true that schools have been closed, it becomes even more extraordinary.
We are trying to improve standards in a difficult year for budget settlements. As we are the party of choice, does my right hon. Friend agree that the only realistic option is to open up the grant-maintained sector? Is it not appalling that only one school in Chorley has gone for GM status? Is not GM status the only way to ensure extra expenditure on schools—and extra capital expenditure on them?s
Yes. It is a pity that the Opposition motion, which concerns opportunity, does not mention choice or diversity. Perhaps that is not surprising, for the Labour party has opposed choice and diversity at every turn: grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges, and even the Education Act 1980, which introduced parental choice in the maintained sector. Nothing has done more to establish choice and diversity than GM schools.
When we came to power, LEAs had a monopoly of state schooling and detailed control of schools. We have given more autonomy to all schools, and we have given parents a central role in determining how much autonomy schools should have.
Parents have the right to decide whether their childs school should become self-governing. Well over 1,000 schools have made the choice to go GM, and the number continues to grow. I hope that the numbers are growing in my right hon. Friends constituency.
It seems to me that GM schools offer not only choice but the chance for governing bodies, without commitment, to do the arithmetic and work out the difference that it might make to them if they opted out of LEA control and became grant-maintained. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be interesting for schools to undertake those sums?
I do. Many schools are doing exactly that at the moment. They will also take into account the fact that, on average, GM schools perform better than their LEA counterparts. The-primary schools have better test scores at key stage one. The comprehensive schools have better GCSE results and less truancy. Not surprisingly, therefore, GM schools are popular with parents—including a number of parents who sit on the Opposition Benches.
What a pity it is that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield—an apparent convert to GM—has so little influence over his own Labour town halls. The behaviour of many of them towards schools seeking to become GM, and to GM schools themselves, has been disgraceful.
Let us take one or two examples from across the country, ranging from deliberate attempts to terrorise to acts of petty spite. Birmingham city council waged a campaign of discrimination against the pupils and staff of Baverstock grant-maintained school. Pupils were banned from libraries during school hours and were not allowed to borrow books for school projects. The school was not allowed to use council football pitches, and pupils were unable to use the local swimming pool.
In April 1994, the Lib-Lab pact which controls Avon county council produced a guidance document clearly designed to intimidate schools considering the GM option, as the following sentences demonstrate:
A Grant-Maintained ballot unleashes deep divisions within parent groups and within communities … the experience of a ballot is a very unpleasant one for the Governing body, the staff and some of the parents.
But what price Labour town halls, when the right hon. Member for Sedgefield seems unable to convert his own education spokesman? The hon. Member for Brightside has stated his opposition to GM schools up and down the land and also quite clearly in the House. Speaking to GM heads last week he made soothing noises, talking about
flexible partnerships for GMs with their local community,
coherence in the configuration of services is also a key process in which all schools should participate.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to explain to the more than 1 million GM parents, not to mention their governors, heads, teachers and children, exactly what those phrases mean. Would he like to tell the House? Can he, as I asked him in a letter last week, give GM pupils, parents and teachers an assurance that he has no intention of changing or interfering with the freedoms, choice and diversity for which these parents have voted?
I spoke of a letter that I wrote to the hon. Member for Brightside last week. I hope that he will give the House an answer to it. Many of his colleagues, including the right hon. Member for Sedgefield, are awaiting it eagerly, because the education of their own children is at stake.
The answer on grant-maintained schools is that they are as subject to cuts and redundancies as every other type of school—as spelled out in the right hon. Ladys letter to her Cabinet colleagues. We give this pledge: every child and every school will be treated equitably and fairly and will be given the same investment to lift standards and opportunities for 100 per cent. of our children, not just 7 per cent. of them.
Dearie me, those are very soothing words, and I do not think that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield will like that too much. Of course Labour Members do not like grant-maintained schools, because those schools manage their own affairs and control their total budgets. They escape from the iron grip of Labour-controlled town halls.
Did my right hon. Friend hear the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) in the same way as I did? He gave an assurance that all schools would be treated in exactly the same way. Does that mean that they will all be dealt with directly by a Labour Government and that they will completely sideline all the local authorities, because that is how I interpret it—no local democracy, no local influence, the whole thing controlled by the hon. Gentleman?
No doubt the hon. Member for Brightside will make his case with the right hon. Member for Sedgefield some time this evening. Whatever he meant, he meant the end of grant-maintained schools, that is for sure.
No. I am not giving way any more.
The Government have an outstanding record of achievement in education. The reforms have established a new framework for education that raises standards and extends opportunity, choice, diversity and achievement. What has the Oppositions contribution been to all that? It has been opposition all the way. No one can deny it; it is clearly chronicled in their voting record.
They have voted against every measure to raise standards and increase opportunity; against every measure to increase choice in the maintained sector; against the assisted places scheme; against the introduction of more parent-governors; against the national curriculum and assessment tests; against GM schools and city technology colleges; against the establishment of Ofsted and the new inspection regime; against the establishment of a higher education funding council; and against the establishment of the Teacher Training Agency.
With that record, how dare the Opposition lecture us about standards and opportunity? How dare they pose as the guardians of opportunity—they who would deny to others the very choices that they seize eagerly for their own children?
It is the Conservative Government who have ensured that we have higher standards and greater opportunities throughout our educational system than ever before. The Government have given the young people of Britain wider choice and greater opportunity and thrown open the doors to a better education and training that is more sound. That is a record of which we are proud, and it is a record that we intend to maintain and enhance.
The debate takes place against a backdrop of growing concern about the funding of our education system, particularly in the state sector.
The Government have failed to deliver high-quality education in all our schools, and that is one of the devastating failures of the past 16 years of Tory party misrule.
The Governments over-prescription of the national curriculum, their failure to deliver on teachers concerns over the way in which they conduct the standard attainment test and their interference in the GCSE examination have impeded, not promoted, the process of improving the standards that are achieved by our pupils in state schools. The Governments blind promotion of grant-maintained schools owes much more to political ideology of selection than it does to choice.
In its leader of 27 April 1992, The Times said:
To pretend that the selective opted out structure emerging as Government policy has anything to do with parental choice is a deception.
Those are powerful words. What they say has been underpinned by a concerted attack on the professionalism of teachers, as evidenced in the recent unhelpful comments by the Secretary of State for Education, who commented on what goes on in classrooms throughout the country.
The debate also takes place against a backdrop of remorseless and systematic education spending cuts. What brings todays debate sharply into focus is the united protest of parents, teachers and governors across the country. Thousands upon thousands of ordinary people, united in their commitment to fight for the best possible education for their children, have been spontaneously thrust into action by the Governments mindless refusal to fund in full this years modest teachers pay award. That act in itself says a great deal about how hopelessly out of touch the Government have become.
The Government stand idly by while bosses in the privatised utilities award themselves massive pay raises, paid for out of the pockets of water, gas and electricity users, yet when it comes to the teachers pay award, the Government agree that the increase is justified but meanly refuse to pay for it. Those actions have left thousands of governors with the atrocious task of sacking teachers and/or increasing class sizes. The Government do not care, because they believe that increasing class sizes does not in itself affect standards. What utter nonsense.
Faced with that choice—requiring almost a judgment of Solomon—school governors have protested loud and clear about the act of educational vandalism perpetrated by the Government. School governors are the same governors whom the Government claim to have liberated, empowered and given a voice to. Is it not ironic that, when those governors speak out in one voice to condemn the Governments actions over the refusal to fund in full the teachers pay award, the so-called self-styled liberators—the Government—ignore their views? So much for the Governments rhetoric about giving parents and governors more say in education.
The Government are only the fickle friend of parent power. In response to the protest, we have seen the ignominious retreat of the Secretary of State for Education. At first she recognised that up to 10,000 teachers would be made redundant and that class sizes would shoot up as a result of the Governments failure to fund in full the teachers pay award. She now says, however, that the pay award can be funded out of unpaid poll tax and the removal of surplus places. In other words, she is suggesting that local education authorities can fund the pay award with money that they do not have. She is engaged in fantasy politics, and she knows it.
Shire county LEAs are not responsible for collecting poll tax or council tax arrears, yet the Secretary of State suggests that teachers pay should be partly funded out of the collection of those arrears. She cannot be serious in her suggestion that teachers monthly salary pay cheques should become dependent on whether a district council has recovered sufficient poll tax arrears to meet the salary bill.
Likewise, on the issue of surplus places, the savings suggested by the Secretary of State are illusory, in that every time an LEA attempts to close a school because of over-capacity, that school applies to become grant-maintained and thus frustrates the efforts of the LEA to rationalise education places. If any proof is needed of that, all one has to do is look at Bankfield high school, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes). It was faced with closure. It applied to opt out and was granted grant-maintained status by the Secretary of State.
In response to the avalanche of criticism by school governors, the Prime Minister, at Question Time last Tuesday, said:
Of course we recognised from the outset that this years settlement is tough in education.
He should have said that the Tory partys approach is tough on education. He went on to say:
If any local authority is thinking of cutting the number of teachers in the classroom, I would ask it what savings it had made in non-teaching aspects of education.—[Official Report, 21 March 1995; Vol. 257, c. 140.]
That patronising nonsense beggars belief after 16 years of education cuts perpetrated by the Tories.
My own LEA—it was mentioned by the Secretary of State—Cheshire county council, which is Tory-Liberal Democrat controlled, is at the bottom of the league in spending per pupil. Cheshire county council spends only £1,321 per nursery and primary school place. The average is £1,580. Suffolk, which is at the top of the league, spends £1,944. On secondary school places, the position is similar. Cheshire spends only £2,072, when the average is £2,260. Cleveland, at the top of the league, spends £2,515.
At the time of the 1995–96 revenue support grant settlement, Michael Pitt, chief executive of Cheshire county council, wrote to me to say that his authoritys administration costs are very low, that class sizes are higher and that its pupil-teacher ratios are far worse than the average. Yet the Secretary of State holds that up as an example of a good education authority. Of course, Michael Pitt is right. In 1994, Cheshire had 19.1 pupils per teacher and was the fourth worst in England. The 1995 figure shows that the ratio has worsened. In Warrington, there are 19.8 pupils per teacher, and in Halton Vale Royal, there are 19.4 pupils per teacher. The Secretary of State quoted that as a good example of providing education. Of course, that was before the decision on the revenue support grant and the Governments refusal to fund fully the teachers pay award.
Cheshire county councils SSA for 1995–96 has been cut by 3.3 per cent. in real terms, and its revenue support grant has been cut by 0.8 per cent. in real terms. That, together with the ES million cost of fully funding the teachers award, has placed severe pressures on the education budget.
To balance its books, Cheshire county council has cut £1.6 million from its client services. That means cutting the number of free school meals and increasing the cost of school meals that are paid for. It has cut £90,000 from its education support services, £290,000 from continuing education and youth and community provision and £113,000 from inspection. The Secretary of State says that inspection is one of the ways to improve standards in our schools, but an authority that she congratulates has cut £113,000 from its inspection budget.
Worst of all, Cheshire county council made a cut of £3 million from student awards in this financial year, and it plans to cut them by £3 million in the next financial year. That means that no discretionary grants or support will be given to adults who wish to return to education. That cut alone hits standards and colleges alike. Warrington collegiate institute is set to lose £300,000 as a result, and adults who return to education will have to fund their own courses or forgo the option of enhancing their qualifications. The loss of discretionary awards hits working-class students hardest, and they are the very people who need to return to education.
Unfortunately, Cheshire county council did not stop there. It cut £575,000 from the primary schools budget, £1.5 million from the secondary schools budget and £440,000 from special education needs. However, the authority was still left with the problem of finding £8 million to fund fully the pay award for its teachers. If the Government had fully funded that award, Cheshire county council could have used the money to bring it from the bottom of the educational ladder on spending per pupil. It could have spent more on improving its poor pupil-teacher ratio in Halton, Warrington and elsewhere in its area.
The money could have been spent on establishing a junior school unit for hearing-impaired pupils at the Brow school in Runcorn. Much-needed extra resources could have been given to the learning support service in Warrington or to a multi-sensory impairment unit similar to the excellent facilities that are provided at the Russett school in Weaverham. It could have provided a much-needed unit in primary schools for partially sighted pupils.
It is clear that the Government have misjudged the mood of the nation on this issue and have ignored the harmful effects of these cuts on our education. They need to rethink their strategy—
The first matter that I should like to place on the record is that, since 1979, there has been a huge increase in Government expenditure on education. There are 50 per cent. more sixth formers than when we came to power, and the number of pupils moving to higher education is now one in three compared with one in eight. That is a 150 per cent. increase. All that has had to be funded, so there is no doubt that we have put vast sums into education. The Secretary of State mentioned that.
A comparison with other countries of the percentage that Britain spends on education will often show to our advantage. On the figures that I have seen, the comparisons with Germany, France and Japan are credible. However, no matter how much more money we have put in and how many more students there are at every level, what matters is the quality of teachers, the commitment of parents and the syllabus. On those three issues over the past 16 years, the Government have done a great deal in every way.
We installed a basic curriculum when we came to power in 1979 and I was privileged to be an Education Minister for four years. A headlong comprehensive reorganisation was jittering to a stop and the far left had encouraged do-it-yourself education in schools instead of real teaching, which means seating people at desks and teaching them with real teachers instead of joyriders.
As I have said, we introduced the basic curriculum. For a time it was too complicated, and I accept that for a while it was oppressive. But that was a trial period, and now there is a good curriculum in primary and secondary schools and testing at the ages of seven, 11 and 14. That is as it should be.
I make no apology for the introduction of league tables. There is a premium football league and there should also be a premium educational league because education is a necessity. In 1979, there was no parental choice and local authorities could increase or decrease the size of schools just as they wanted.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Parents were not given the privilege of knowing the curriculum and there was no parental choice. We changed all that. In the past 16 years, the Government have done very well for education. All the changes that we have made to improve education have been opposed by the Labour party.
I had forgotten that the Liberals still exist. They also opposed the changes. The Opposition opposed every Second Reading—when I checked yesterday I found that only one Third Reading was unopposed. We introduced the curriculum and parental choice, but they preferred parents to be blindfolded and having to go where they were sent, like a conscript army.
Apparently, the Labour party now agrees with us on most matters, which is rather a compliment. However, it does not agree that reverse discrimination in education—the assisted places scheme—has worked. Some 34,000 children from some of the poorest homes in the country are in our best schools. The party that talks about reverse discrimination turned against the only good reverse discrimination ever carried out in education.
I am concerned about three issues, the first of which is the destruction of playing fields and the consequent lack of sporting facilities. Today, I asked for a list of school and other playing fields that have been lost in my constituency over the 21 years that I have been there. The Government should direct that no playing field should be taken out of action from now on unless there is Government approval. There is no point in talking about sport if there are no facilities for it.
Secondly, I am concerned to maintain the standards of A-level and degree courses. No deterioration should arise from the fact that more people are sitting for those examinations, as that would put at risk the severity of the examinations. Thirdly, I am concerned to see the return of morning school assemblies because they bring the people in a school together. Such an assembly has a moral and a disciplinary place in a school and if the headmaster cannot keep 1,200 pupils in order at assembly, he cannot expect his staff to keep them in order in the classrooms. I sometimes suspect that assemblies are not held because of the fear of bad behaviour.
I should like to deal with another matter on which I think I might have the support of the whole House. That would be a surprise and a privilege, and I shall give my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who was also a teacher, a drink if I manage to do it. I do not think that we realise that the power in education has changed. In the beginning, the political parties organised it nationally and locally and there were agreements about setting up governing bodies. That has gone, and one of the problems facing the Government is that the power has passed to parents and teachers.
There is nothing wrong with that. My hon. Friend is cross-examining me. I will have a word with him, too. He will not get a drink afterwards. The battles will now be fought with parents and teachers, not with the local authorities of old.
Let me end my speech as I know that a time limit has been imposed.
I would vote for that tomorrow. Capital and corporal punishment is coming back around the world, including in America. Eventually, it will come back here. We shall all have to have a drink together on the day that that happens.
In 1987, a MORI poll was conducted on whether parents were satisfied with their childrens education. It showed that 74 per cent. of parents were satisfied. The 1994 MORI poll showed that 83 per cent. were satisfied. The Government have poured money into education because of the extension in the number of people staying on longer. Secondly, we have tightened education up through the national curriculum, parental choice and all those changes, against the wishes of the Labour party, which is so unqualified to go into government. Thirdly, we have to watch out that that vast expansion does not mean a lowering of standards. Apart from that, I have full confidence in the Government on education.
It is always difficult to follow the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). His ideas are often interesting and provocative but, sadly, wrong.
As the House will know, I act as an adviser to two teacher unions. I suspect that they will be slightly surprised to hear my opening remarks. I should like to pay a compliment to the Secretary of State for Education, who, sadly, is not in her place. The House will acknowledge that rejection, especially public rejection, is difficult to bear. All hon. Members know that, behind the scenes, the Secretary of State has been working hard to try to obtain additional money for the education service.
We know that, behind the scenes, the right hon. Lady has made it clear that she knows that the recent education settlement will damage the education service, that a number of teachers will have to be sacked, and that she believes class sizes will rise. I congratulate her on the fact that she managed to give a speech in which none of that, and none of the public humiliation that she suffered as a result of her Cabinet colleagues rejection of her pleas, showed through.
In my county of Leicestershire, the Conservatives put forward a budget that would have given an extra £1 million to education. The Liberal Democrat leader on Leicestershire county council said that, if he had an extra £1 million, he would not spend it on schools. Does the hon. Gentleman stand by that statement?
Many decisions have been made at local level by local authorities that are placed in considerable difficulty because of the restraints on finance imposed in recent settlements under the Government.
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Without knowing the details of the Leicestershire case, it would be inappropriate for me to comment, but it is interesting that, both in the Chamber and on the radio in the past 24 hours, we have heard a number of examples of what Liberal Democrat and Labour authorities have done. One relates to Bedfordshire county council. The Secretary of State suggested on the radio this morning, and repeated at the Dispatch Box today, that the Liberal Democrat and Labour administration in Bedfordshire had produced a budget that was less for education than the Conservatives had.
This morning, however, the Secretary of State received a letter from that council, pointing out that the information that she gave on the radio and subsequently did not tie in with the budget figures in Bedfordshire, where the Liberal Democrat-Labour administration put forward a budget amounting to nearly £250 million more than that of the Conservatives. It is not the other way around. I need to know the details of the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan).
The hon. Gentleman should consider Bedfordshires budget more closely. The Labour-Liberal budget has resulted in a 3.5 per cent. cut in school budgets. The Conservative budget, in addition to funding teachers pay, resulted in a 2 per cent. cut. That is a difference of 1.5 per cent. Each 1 per cent. amounts to £35,000 in one upper school. Therefore, an extra £52,500 has been cut from the budget of one upper school in Bedfordshire. Those are the correct figures
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He is making the point that Conservative Members are making the most incredible use of some statistics.
I have the budget figures that were contained in the budget proposals of the two political groups. Today at the Dispatch Box, the Secretary of State told us clearly that more money was being made available for the education service. Of course, everyone knows that that amount of money is an increase on the previous year, but she refused to acknowledge that, in real terms, the amount of money has decreased by £50 per primary pupil and by nearly £200 per secondary pupil.
People outside need to know the statistics that make it clear what is happening on the ground. Parents, teachers and governors know that the education service in their region is being cut and that, as a result, the quality of education being provided to their children is being harmed.
I shall not give way. Although I do not have to comply with the 10-minute rule, Madam Speaker is keen for me to stay as close to it as I can. Perhaps I shall give way when I have made a little progress.
It is interesting that the Cabinet is clearly split on education. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury wants nursery vouchers, yet the Secretary of State opposes them. Earlier today at the Dispatch Box, the Secretary of State said that the ideas of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) on Manchester grammar school were refreshing, and she invited him to tea to discuss them. Only yesterday, however, the Prime Minister rejected those ideas in his answers at Prime Ministers Question Time.
It is reported that the President of the Board of Trade and the Foreign Secretary, who are running scared of the backlash caused by education cuts, want more money to be spent on schools rather than on tax cuts, yet, needless to say, the Chancellor of the Exchequer opposes that.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, makes claims about the number of local education authority administrators. Frankly, his claims would not pass key stage 1 in mathematics. If he considers his own local education authority, he will find that, out of the nearly 8,000 teachers and support staff, such as caretakers, cleaners and education welfare officers, less than one in 26 are involved in LEA administration—hardly the two administrators per three teachers that he claimed.
The Prime Minister knows, and the Cabinet knows only too well, that LEAs have already been forced to cut into the bone as a result of education cuts. To misquote Winston Churchill, the Government have got themselves into a shambles wrapped in confusion inside chaos.
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He and I have had extremely extensive correspondence on the issues that no doubt he wants to raise. He can refer to the letters that I have written to him in relation to the point that I am sure he wants to raise.
As a result of all that chaos, our teachers, our governors and, perhaps most important, our pupils suffer. They suffer from having larger classes—1 million primary pupils are in classes of more than 30, and 100,000 in classes of more than 36. They suffer because the school buildings are falling down around their ears. A survey last week revealed that more than a quarter of schools have been forced to close dilapidated buildings, and nearly 20 per cent. of schools have had pupils or staff suffering from illness or injury linked to poor conditions.
It is hardly surprising that truanting has increased. Instead of fining parents for not sending their children to school, perhaps we should fine Ministers for not making the money available to ensure that schools are places where children want to go.
The failure to fund the education service means that there is now a £4.3 billion backlog of repairs and maintenance to school buildings.
It is, of course, easy to spend someone elses money, which is the hon. Gentlemans partys policy. He criticised the Conservative authoritys budget in Bedfordshire, but I remind him that, under the Liberal-Labour budget now accepted by the council, it is estimated that between 250 and 300 redundancies will have to be made in the education service. Under the Conservative budget, some 140 redundancies would have to be made, because we are making greater savings elsewhere. In other words, his party is concerned not with jobs but with pouring more money into what seems in Bedfordshire to be a bottomless pit.
The hon. Gentleman has a very peculiar view of the nature of the education service. One of the problems is that many Conservative Members seem to believe—just like the Prime Minister when he talked about administrators—that one can provide an education service without any of the back-up and support that teachers desperately need in the classroom. That is what worries many people. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would reflect on the point of having Ofsted inspectors identify problems in schools—problems that teachers often already know about—but for there then to be no back-up and support to help the schools to put matters right.
The situation is already bad enough, but let us reflect on what the Government are now doing. The Secretary of State did not deny that, under the financial support settlement, the Government have cut £50 in real terms from spending on every primary school pupil and nearly £200 from spending on every secondary school pupil. In effect, that is a cut of £10,000 for a 200-pupil primary school, or a cut of £126,000 for a 650-pupil secondary school. The total is a £700 million cut. How can local education authorities possibly make up such a shortfall?
Many people outside have rumbled the Government. They know that the problems cannot be blamed on local education authorities, but that the blame must be put fairly and squarely on central Government cuts, where it belongs. Perhaps the most cynical reaction since Herod asked the wise men to take him to greet the baby was to support an increase for teachers but not to fund it.
The situation was beautifully summed up in a letter that I read recently in an education magazine. The letter read:
Dear Editor, My son was pleased when I told him I was putting his pocket money up by five pounds. He was a bit bemused when I told him I was not funding the increase. When he asked me where the money was coming from, I told him that was his problem.
That is the problem faced by schools across the country.
The hon. Gentleman should perhaps put that question to the Secretary of State, because she too has been asking for more money for the education service, but her request has been rejected. Perhaps she now knows how people in the education service feel. People in the service have rumbled the Government. They know that the Government are trying to save money for pre-election tax cut bribes. The Government should not be allowed to succeed.
I hope that the Secretary of State will continue to press the Cabinet for more money for the education service, and that she will not give up in the attempt. If she does not succeed, the only honourable thing for someone in her position is to resign her post. I am sorry that she is not here to hear me say this. She has, at least privately, indicated her support for the education service. The time has now come, however, for her to put her job on the line to secure a decent future for our schools, and I hope that she will do so this evening by supporting the Labour motion.
That was a fascinating tirade by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). I happen to have had the privilege of knowing the Secretary of State for Education for a very long time. She was, in fact, the inspector at the village school to which my children went—six of them. She was a very good inspector, just as she had been a very good teacher.
My right hon. Friend was far from humiliated in the recent Budget discussions. Although the national Budget was frozen overall, two Secretaries of State won increases for their Departments budgets—the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Education. I reckon that the ladies did rather well.
The remarks of the hon. Member for Bath do not entirely surprise me. He had the great privilege of attending Lancaster Royal grammar school—he was the only Liberal it ever turned out. His school report boded ill for the Liberal party. It read as follows:
Muddle-headed and impulsive. May grow out of it. Daft and illogical. Does less than justice to work by indulging in irreverence and orgies of bad spelling.
We cannot judge the quality of his spelling, but we can judge the quality of his logic.
Reference has already been made to the fact that the motion ranges very widely. I have the great privilege of having several superb schools in my constituency, and many of the pupils who have attended them—including the hon. Member for Bath—went on to university. As the House may be somewhat tired of hearing by now, I also have an absolutely superb university in my constituency. In todays hierarchy, it is third only to Oxford, which is a superb university, and to Cambridge, which is not too bad.
Lancaster university has led the field in so many subjects and is now on an international plane. It set the scene for the whole university world when, last week, it raised no less than £35 million on the stock exchange on the strength of its reputation. Is that not an enormous tribute to the work it has done?
I am very interested in the observations that have been made about staffing, and I am very keen to learn about staffing at county hall. I was astounded to find that, although further education has been removed from the orbit of the county councils, and although much of the county councils work has been removed because of local management of schools, staffing gains have nevertheless been made in administration. In Preston in 1990–91, there were 503 full-time equivalents. The figure then shot up to 543, despite the fact that further education had been removed from county council control, and local management of schools had transferred much work from county to schools. Last year, the figure went up to 548.
The Secretary of State referred to a cut of £500,000 in Lancashires administration. I laughed, because the £500,000 cut was a tightening of the rules because of the excessive amount of sick pay taken by county hall staff, which was mentioned by the Audit Commission.
I was so extremely incensed by the way in which the county had cut the money for our schools that I decided to go into the question of grant-maintained status. GM status was not only a Conservative idea you know, ladies and gentlemen—[Interruption.] Sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, I mean hon. Members, although some hon. Members are ladies and gentlemen.
There was a fascinating item in the Evening Standard a week last Tuesday which quoted Eric Hammond, a chairman of a school which is trying to become grant-maintained. I could not have agreed with him more. I do not recall having agreed with him before, but I did on that occasion. He said:
It is not in our interests to be tied to an expensive bureaucracy.
By golly, it is not in our interests either.
There is also a very good school in Bradford which has just become grant-maintained. The headmaster of that school is a former Labour councillor. He told a friend of mine who was there only last Friday, so it was fairly recently, that, if a Labour Government were elected—heaven preserve us—and abolished grant-maintained status, he would take immediate early retirement.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to Baverstock school. I have been circulating the cutting of Mr. Hammonds piece and the cutting about Baverstock school to all the parents who write to me about GM status, because it shows what can be achieved when governors, parents and teachers take their courage in both hands and decide that their fate and that of their children shall be in their own hands and not those of the county.
Baverstock was an extremely rundown school, and now it is in fine fettle. Since becoming grant-maintained, it has taken on 12 new teachers. It was forecast that, once it gained GM status, it would get rid of children who were more difficult to educate—but far from it. Of those 12 teachers, two teach children with special needs on a one-to-one basis.
My right hon. Friend the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) who, alas, is no longer in her place, suggested that school governors should get out the figures for how much better off their schools would be if they were grant-maintained. I have gone one better. I have found out how much better off every school in my constituency would be if it was grant-maintained, and I have circulated the figures to every head teacher and all chairmen of governors.
On Friday, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Sir M. Lennox-Boyd) and I are holding a seminar to discuss with some head teachers and chairmen of governors who have—[Horn. MEMBERS: Who is paying for it?] It is at our expense—50:50. The seminar is so that teachers and governors can learn how much better off they would be from those schools which have already gained grant-maintained status. One school in my constituency has had a bite of almost £250,000 taken out of its funding by the county.
All schools would be better off. I have always known that, but I did not know by how much until I went into the matter so carefully. The people at the seminar will be able to hear for themselves what has happened to those who have gone down the path of GM status. They will be able to ask as many questions as they like. If hostile people attend, they will be more than welcome, because we will be able to convert them. The future of our children depends on such people having the chance of getting the money they should have direct from the Government. It should not be watered down by county hall, which fritters it away.
The speech of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) was also a fascinating tirade. I was glad to hear the combative opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). I thought that the Secretary of State, however, made only a grimly determined speech. It did not convince the House. It was perhaps contrived by a desiccated calculating machine. The right hon. Lady certainly came to the House with a weak hand, and she delivered a very weak speech. Indeed, all she offered the nation, in effect, was tea and sympathy, to quote her words. It was an uncomfortable speech, and her supporters looked uncomfortable as well.
This year, I have made only nine visits to schools in my constituency. When I talk to the class teacher, I find morale very low indeed. When I talk to head teachers, I find them deeply worried. When I talk to governors, I find that they sometimes feel overwhelmed by what are now very onerous responsibilities.
When the deputation came to the House last week for the mass lobby by people from all over the country, I met four people from my locality—two class teachers, a representative of those who lead ancillary workers in the school service, and a local education authority chairperson. They made the point that there was an absolute and urgent need for more investment and more teachers in the school service.
Anybody who takes the trouble to visit our schools and spends some time in classrooms observing what is going on will quickly be converted to the side of the teacher. Most classrooms are a credit to enter. They display first-rate work. The decoration of the walls and the presentation of the various schemes and projects of the children show any visitor that the class teacher is doing first-rate work.
I praise the dedication, conscientiousness and professionalism of the teachers of our country. In the circumstances, they are doing a wonderful job. I would like them to receive more praise and more resources to enable them—even better than now—to deliver a first-rate service to the children in their care.
I could sum up the feeling of secondary school head teachers by citing the reaction of one, who said that there were very few problems in the school itself; the problems came through the letter box. Head teachers are angry at the demands made on them by ministerial fiat, by local education authority questionnaire and by various bulletins.
Head teachers at whatever level want to provide an even better service to the local children and parents. They feel overwhelmed time and time again by a tide of paper—by diktat from central Government—and they are asking for a respite while they try to cope with the demands which have already been made of them. They must be right. The nations schools now need a breathing space.
If we consider the impact of the leadership by a succession of Conservative Secretaries of State and their legislation, the House might think it sobering. First there was the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), then the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and then the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten). It would be uncontroversial to say that those Secretaries of State were highly controversial.
Perhaps the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) tried to secure some peace in his work. From the contribution made by the right hon. Lady, the present Secretary of State, she appears to be suing for peace. History may be kind to the late Sir Keith Joseph, if only because of his technical and vocational education initiative. I did not think there was any malice, since there was certainly no command, from Lord Carlisle.
As Cabinet Ministers in charge of the nations school service, the reigns of the right hon. Members for Mole Valley and for Oxford, West and Abingdon and of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe were disastrous. They were always seeking to make a reputation, but in so doing, they almost destroyed the school service that they were supposed to be leading and restoring. They almost destroyed the coherence of the civil service, and of the inspectorate and its interface with the school service. Certainly the confidence and self-respect of the teaching force was gravely impaired by many Conservative Secretaries of State, and that communicated itself to parents and governing bodies.
Governing bodies then found that there was an urgent need to raise money through sales of work and so on to provide the essentials for our schools in the late 20th century. Her Majestys Government carelessly embarked on a series of privatisations of public utilities, and used the funds raised from those great sales of the family silver to give tax cuts to the better-off. Meanwhile, the cuts in the school service continued. That had to be wrong.
Today, there remains a miserable scene of cuts and frustration. Children in communities with large-scale unemployment and poverty are not getting the chances they deserve. They are only young once. Many children stay up far too late at night, are irregular attenders and exist on poor diets. Concentration can be woeful, and distractions are legion.
Many children in our schools do not have two parents, and for some children, the school is frequently a substitute home. It also provides them with a source of protein, and a venue for standards and for prayers. Schools are the places where right and wrong are patiently explained by dedicated teachers. We should not starve our schools of resources and of the desperately needed additional teachers.
From parliamentary answers given to me, I know that class sizes are creeping up, and now teachers are expected to cope with the consequences of a powerful social revolution roaring through our country—and this at a great pace. That poses serious problems for them, and they must be given the resources to get on with coping with those massive challenges.
Above all, parents are asking the Government for more teachers. In the primary sector, especially, average class sizes are increasing; in the smaller high schools there is a sense of desperation. We want central Government to provide a better delivery of the essential services at the chalk face for teachers, parents and governors.
To sum up, parents want the leaking roof to be plugged and the classrooms to be redecorated. They are not asking for the earth. They do not want a revolution; they simply want justice, and a fair deal from the Government.
In listening to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) and to all the Opposition Members who have spoken so far, I detect a close similarity in their speeches. That reflects the lack of choice, diversity and excitement in Opposition education policies that always becomes clear in such debates. Perhaps that is partly explained by the report on the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), about which we enjoyed hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman).
I am glad that this is a wide-ranging debate, because it will give me the chance to talk about selection, choice and excellence in education. Those issues underpin the reason why Opposition education policies have failed in the past, and will fail in the future, should they ever be tried.
As the debate is partly about teachers and their pay, perhaps at this stage I should declare a connection with, and an interest in, the Professional Association of Teachers.
There is no doubt that in the constituencies there has been a political campaign on education orchestrated by the Opposition. It has been unscrupulous and unhelpful and has done education no service at all. I have made a point of visiting schools in my constituency in Norwich, and I am well aware of the situation in Norfolk. The Secretary of State for Education is right when she says that schools problems should be examined objectively, discussed properly, and where there are difficulties—here I agree with Opposition Members—they should be debated and tackled. But that is not the same as a mega-political campaign that does education no good.
In Norfolk we recently had a meeting of governors and parents, and schools have been advised, unwisely I believe, to go beyond their deficits and to set illegal budgets. I agree with the Norfolk politicians who are telling the governors and parents that they should reconsider before plunging their schools into the red. I am glad to see one of the Opposition Members nodding in agreement, because it is the Labour leader of the Norfolk education committee who is giving that advice.
I am happy to support the Government amendment. After all, since 1979 there has been a substantial increase in education spending under the Conservative Government, and more money is available for local authorities than there was last year. But my main aim tonight is to highlight the Governments determination to improve standards and choice in education—and choice extends to methods of funding.
I believe that perhaps we should have moved more quickly to direct funding of schools by the state. I prefer the grant-maintained system, which my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster supports so enthusiastically, as do many of my hon. Friends. It represents a step in the right direction.
I support that mode of funding because of the greater transparency that it provides. Arguments about education would not be mixed up with standard spending assessments and local authorities if school funding were not mixed up with the complications of local authority funding. That is the problem. The problem is not the excellent performance by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is doing an excellent job, but the way in which schools are funded. I support those who say that we should have more direct funding and expand the grant-maintained sector where possible.
No, I shall not, because of the time limit; otherwise I should have been happy to do so.
I must refer to an important matter of which I have personal experience. The Opposition opposed the idea of grant-maintained schools, root and branch. I know that because I was on the Committee considering the legislation that introduced it. I am not sure what the Oppositions present view is; perhaps there will be more time to debate that on another occasion. However, they opposed it, root and branch, at the time, as they always oppose attempts to give parents, teachers and children greater diversity and choice in education.
Opposition Members may have forgotten what happened in the past, but I have not, because I entered teaching in 1960—at Manchester grammar school, which is in the news at the moment. I hope that Opposition Members will listen carefully to what I say because the Labour party, in Manchester and elsewhere, opposed everything that stood in the way of steamrollering in the comprehensive system. Whatever one may feel about comprehensive schools—and there are many good ones—the manner in which they were introduced did damage to
education from which the country has still not yet recovered. That was done by Shirley Williams and by Anthony Crosland, who said:
if its the last thing I do, Im going to destroy every grammar school in England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
The damage was done at that time, and that is why direct grant schools—such as Manchester grammar school, Bradford grammar school and many others—were forced, against their will and better judgment, to leave the state system.
I do not have time to say very much about this matter, but I remember the tradition of Manchester grammar school because I taught there. The tradition was to help poorer pupils who were bright to have the very best opportunities, and many Opposition Members and civil servants have gained from education at those schools.
The Labour party forced those schools to go independent. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who brackets those schools with other public schools. There is a difference, as the tradition of direct grant schools is to help poorer people. Labour was responsible for the plight of such schools.
The Labour party is still opposed to selection. Having read recent reports on the matter, I know that Manchester grammar school—even if it returns to the state, which it wants to do as that is true to its traditions—still believes in selection. I heard the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), and it is clear that Labour is still implacably opposed to selection. It is still on the egalitarian ticket which is doing so much damage to education, and it will have a problem in the future.
The issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham is important, because direct grant schools are still tremendous schools and everyone here recognises that. I hope that all Members will think seriously about ideas which have been put forward for their future. Perhaps the Schools Funding Council, or even the grant-maintained schools concept, is appropriate, but I understand the funding implications which lie behind that.
I think that I have made my point about the difficulties that the Opposition have in terms of education. It is the same old problem of levelling everyone down which always destroys Labours education policies; it could do so again. That is why I support the Governments amendment. We are right to go for choice and diversity and to encourage good standards, not only in our direct grant schools but in all schools. I hope that Ministers will continue to aim to fund education as much as they can, but—more importantly—that they will continue to pursue policies which will lead to the best quality of education for our young people.
This is an important debate on the most important asset of this nation—our children and their future education—and it is right to try to focus attention on what the Government are doing.
I wish to refer to a letter that appeared in the Burnley Express last Friday which underlines the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). In the main, the people who are leading the opposition to what is happening are not county councillors or Members of Parliament, but the parents and governors who recognise what is happening. The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) referred to the involvement of parents and governors in the issue; if we want them to be genuinely involved in the local management of schools, we must take account of what was in that letter.
The letter stated:
As a school governor and parent, I am appalled at the horrendous cuts in school budgets which the Government is to impose in the financial year 1995/96 … If letters arrive by the sackful we may be able to persuade the Government to stop these swingeing cuts which are about to befall schools and, ultimately, if left alone will destroy our education system.
Many parents and governors—they are not involved in politics, and are not Conservatives, Liberals or Labour supporters—say that, following the introduction of local management of schools they have been given responsibilities to do certain things, but they have not been given the finances to do the job. Many of them do not understand that, because they believe that the Government have given them the responsibility and genuinely expect them to do the job. That is why they are now concerned at the further tightening of the financial screw which will occur this year.
The front-page headline of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph last night was Savage Staff Cuts At Schools. The story underneath went on to say:
Secondary schools throughout East Lancashire are facing cutbacks averaging £100,000 each and are having to ask two or three teachers to take early retirement.
At least one school is also considering spending more than it has been allowed by Lancashire County Council to try to stave off the worst effects of the most savage cuts in years.
A teacher from St Theodores high school in my constituency said:
We are reducing our staff level by three. They will be taking early retirement. Spending on capitation—books and equipment—is frozen at last years level which is almost the same as the previous years. Repairs and maintenance will be down to essential, day-to-day repairs.
The editorial of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph yesterday stated:
The cruel truth is that for the sake of a relatively small amount of cash, everyone is suffering. Children, the most important people of all, tomorrows citizens who will ultimately hold the future of this country in their hands, will receive the direct hit.
Then there are dedicated and already hard-pressed teachers wondering whether they will be out on the streets next week.
Parents, too, are worried sick about their childrens future worrying if they will get the attention they need, whether those with special needs will have enough help, and whether even the brightest can manage to cope against a background of cutbacks and decaying buildings … The latest round of cuts is an iniquity. The pain is not limited to Lancashire, it is being felt all over the country.
Things have gone too far this time. Before long, one way or another, those responsible can expect the caning they deserve.
We all want the opportunity to make those responsible pay for the cuts. They should be put into opposition, and let us take over the Government and provide money for education, as one of our priorities is to ensure that education is provided with the funds that it needs.
I have been in correspondence in recent weeks with Ministers, including the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools whose word processor must be
churning out replies by the dozen. The Minister made a number of wrong statements in a letter that he sent to me. He stated:
Allowing for the reform of inter-authority recruitment, Lancashires education SSA for 1995–96 represents an increase of 1.4 per cent. (almost £7 million)—above the national average increase of 1.2 per cent.
What the Minister did not say was that that 1.4 per cent. is tied directly to the increase in the number of children within the county of Lancashire. Last year, Lancashire got 2.3 per cent. against the average at that time of 2.7 per cent. because of the increase in the number of children on that occasion. He also failed to say that the figure is less than the rate of inflation. If so, it is really a cut, however anyone may wish to look at it, and the Government cannot get away with saying that it is not a cut.
The Minister went on to refer in his letter to school balances of some £700 million at the end of March 1994, adding that
it is not unreasonable to think that some at least of this sum could be applied towards the pay settlement where it is possible for that to happen.
The Minister also says that that money should be used to help with school repairs and maintenance, as well as with the pay settlement; so he wants to use it twice. Neither he nor the Secretary of State know what the balances will be at the end of the current financial year. It must be taken into account that it is not spare money hanging around in school coffers. Each school needs to keep about 3 to 5 per cent. so that they do not run into deficit and have to borrow money. Almost all schools have committed projects on which they wish to spend that money to enable them to provide a better education to the children whom they teach.
The Under-Secretary of State for Schools then said:
How Lancashire determines its spending priorities for the services for which it is responsible is solely a matter for the County Council.
What nonsense when, because of how local government is now funded, the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Education effectively fix the budget for every county council and borough council in the country. There is no flexibility or room for manoeuvre as budgets are fixed and rigid.
Lancashire county council is spending 108 per cent. of the SSA which it is deemed necessary to spend on education. That means that Lancashire county council regards education as so important that it spends 8 per cent. more than the Government wish it to spend. What the Minister fails to say is, if Lancashire county council spends more, where that money will come from. It is capped, so the money must come from cuts in other services. Should those be in social services? Should we close more homes for the elderly? What should we do? What the Minister says is nonsense.
In her speech today, the Secretary of State inadvertently misconstrued the evidence—I choose my words carefully—that was supplied to her. She said that Lancashire county council chose to impose cuts in education amounting to £19 million when officers recommended cuts of £13 million.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) has checked on those figures during this debate. He found that the officers gave an illustrative figure if the cuts were to be 4 per cent. They also gave a big list of cuts totalling £42 million from which the county council could select. Ultimately, it had to come forward with cuts of 5.5 per cent., which is the £19 million to which the Secretary of State referred, so it was wrong to give the impression which the Secretary of State gave.
Lancashire county council does not have enough money to provide its services. It is time that the Government gave it more money and allowed it to provide the education that our children need.
First, I apologise to the House for being absent for 45 minutes. I had to leave the Chamber to take the Chair of the Procedure Select Committee, but I hastened back immediately. I was determined to speak because of how the Liberal Democrats in Devon have set out to mislead the people of Devon and because of the speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) who, in Goebbels fashion, kept repeating a misrepresentation about the Government. The Government are not discredited. They have a new desire to ensure that people are properly represented, and the Opposition had better realise that in the next two years.
I make the accusation against the Liberal Democrats because, even before they had agreed a budget for Devon, their chief education officer said that, as the Government had cut Devons grant for education, teachers would have to be sacked. Parents do not think that education should be a political football. They are interested in their childrens education and want that carried out properly and as efficiently as possible.
Let us look at the truth. On the accusation by the county council that funding for education was being cut, in 1994–95, the standard spending assessment for education in Devon was £321.7 million. For the coming year, it is £328.4 million—no cut whatever but an increase of £6.8 million, the equivalent of more than £51 for every child in education in the county of Devon.
On the accusation that the Conservative party has paid no attention to education and are not interested in it, let us look at the education SSA for Devon over the past five-year period. In 1990–91, it was £276 million; by 1992–93, it had increased to £343 million. Given that, in 1993–94, sixth forms and FE colleges were taken away, expenditure for Devon was estimated to decrease by £34 million, but it still increased to £314 million that year. As I said, in 1994–95, it increased to £321 million. Whichever way we look at the matter—whether we put the £34 million at the beginning or at the end, because statistically it can be done either way—the SSA for education in Devon rose by between 30 and 35 per cent. over those five years, which represents a direct gain for Devon.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the figures provided by the House of Commons Library, based on a parliamentary question, show that in real terms, the cuts in SSA per primary school pupil in Devon are £46 and, per secondary school pupil, £178? Will he also confirm that the failure to provide funding for the teachers pay award is costing Devon county council £5 million?
The hon. Gentleman is so misleading as to be wrong. What I am trying to explain is that net institutional expenditure for nursery and primary education in Devon is £1,879 per pupil, which is the average of any county in the country. The accusation that Devon is doing worse than other counties is wrong. It is interesting to note that expenditure per pupil in the nursery and primary and the secondary sectors has increased. In 1992–93, Devon was 24th and 25th respectively in the national league and in 1995–96 it was 19th and 18th respectively as a result of the increases which the Government have provided. That is how the Government have been assisting education in Devon.
What is so wrong is that Devon county council is taking money away from education and putting it into other services. When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, will he consider the fact that education SSA should be ring-fenced so that local authorities cannot use education SSA for purposes other than education? Despite the increase in funding for Devon of £6.8 million, most schools have had their education budgets cut. How can that possibly be right?
Let us consider the alternatives that Devon was given. A budget was suggested by the Devon Conservative group, which would have ensured another £4.4 million for education in Devon and would have restricted the amount to the capping level. However, the Liberal Democrats have chosen a budget that will have to be capped. They voted the Conservative budget down. That cannot make sense and must be wrong.
Spending per pupil in the country has increased by almost 50 per cent. in real terms since 1979. Spending per pupil on books and equipment has increased by 31 per cent. in real terms. Let us consider the teachers, because those are the people whom most of us want to look after. The average teachers pay will be between £20,000 and £22,000 a year from April 1995. Since 1979, the average teachers pay has increased by 36 per cent. That is considerably greater than the average increase in wages of 23 per cent. for the rest of the country. Teacher vacancies today are fewer than at nearly any time in our history.
What are the alternatives? We are ensuring that there is a national curriculum; what does the Labour party wish to do about that? It opposed the national curriculum, but I think that it will now accept it. The regular testing and assessment of children and students is an essential part of our education reform. The informal revolution involving the publication of results is a major benefit for parents and must be judged as such; and the examination results, GCSE and A-levels, are better than ever. That is what Conservative education policy is doing; it does not resemble the terrifying story that we heard from the Opposition Front Bench.
What do the Liberal Democrats want to do? They want to remove the right of parents to choose their childrens school; they oppose grant-maintained schools; they want to abolish objective testing and performance tables; and they want to end the assisted places scheme and scrap A-levels, although I think that they are having second thoughts about that now.
We now have a definite statement.
The Liberal Democrats also want further and higher education institutes to submit to local authority control.
Is that what the country really wants? [HON. MEMBERS: No.] Of course it is not. Therefore we need to ensure that we stop having battles such as this about education. Let us make it absolutely clear what the Conservative party has achieved. If we let people in Devon know what the Conservative party will do for education in Devon, we will be a lot better off.
I have a short statement to make before I call the next speaker. In his speech moving the motion now before the House, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) used some words that were challenged at the time by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools. I explained to the House that my attention was disturbed at the time, and I undertook to look at the transcript. I have now been able to do so.
The hon. Member for Brightside was challenging the validity of education statistics given by members of the Government at various times in the recent past. Although he explained later the meaning he intended to convey, in my view he went too far in describing the Chief Secretary to the Treasury as ethically challenged and saying, in his words, that they—that is, Ministers—cannot tell the truth.
I know that the House can get over-excited in major debates of this kind and that words are used which, when read on the page, appear clearly unparliamentary. While accepting what the hon. Member said after my second intervention, I think it would clear the matter up if he would formally withdraw the two brief unparliamentary phrases to which I have now drawn attention.
If the hon. Member were to look at the words in the dictionary as to the meaning of being ethically challenged, it is a question of morally not knowing right from wrong, and it is quite a serious parliamentary statement. As I said, I understand the hon. Gentleman did try to clear the matter up later, but I should be much obliged if he would withdraw, so that we might proceed with the debate.
Of course I accept your ruling, and I would not for a minute accuse Ministers of not knowing what they were doing.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on his speech in opening the debate, which he did extraordinarily well in the face of what appeared to be organised disruption by the yobbo tendency on the Conservative Benches.
I found the Secretary of States comments—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Madam Speaker. I found the Secretary of States comments, although not surprising, certainly disappointing. She seemed to be trying to blame everyone else for the cuts in education rather than taking any responsibility herself. Education Ministers have a duty to take responsibility for what happens to the countrys education service, but they have failed to do so.
My constituency is a marginal seat which was held by the Conservatives until the most recent election. By no stretch of the imagination could it be described as Labour heartland, but I have to tell Conservative Members that the Government are no longer despised or loathed in my constituency—it has gone far beyond that. The vast majority of my constituents, even those who voted for the Conservatives at the last election, now hold the Government in contempt, because the Government are never prepared to accept that it may be they who have made a mistake or got it wrong.
As councillors struggle to balance budgets and school governors are confronted with the prospect of having to sack teachers, what is the reaction of the Government? Is it to take some of the responsibility for that? Is it to show some leadership? No, it is not. The Governments reaction is to blame councils, governors, the BBC—anyone rather than themselves. It is no wonder that they are held in utter contempt.
I have had letters from representatives of every type of school in my constituency—aided schools, council-maintained schools, primary schools and secondary schools—all expressing genuine outrage at the level of cuts confronting them. I have even received a letter from the chair of governors of a grant-maintained school, although there are no GM schools in my constituency—parents and governors in Hyndburn have far more sense than to want the education service to be dismantled in the way that GM status implies.
Following the comments of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), who is no longer in her place, about the so-called benefits of GM status in Lancashire, it is interesting to consider what the chair of governors of St. Wilfrids GM school in Blackburn, which is in a neighbouring constituency to mine and which some of my constituents attend, had to say about the effects of Government policy. In a letter to the Secretary of State, he said:
even after allowing for a known reduction of 2.5 staff, and a possible further reduction of two staff, a drastic cut in spending on capitation items will be inevitable and together these will have a very serious effect on the curriculum. If part of the cost of the pay award has to be borne as well as these reductions, it will not be possible for a budget to be approved which would enable the schools commitments to pupils to be met.
There we have it.
GM schools are the Governments flagship. Yet the chairman of governors of a GM school in Lancashire admits that, as a result of the Governments funding of GM schools as well as local education authority schools, his school will not be able to meet its commitments to pupils. That is a disgrace. It is no wonder that the promised avalanche of school opt-outs has failed to materialize.
The chairman of governors of St. Wilfrids GM school and the great number of other people who have written to me are not Labour party activists. They are not even Labour party members. I have no idea what their political affiliations are. They entered the teaching profession and became school governors because they cared about children and wanted to contribute to a successful education system, and they are extremely angry about the current situation.
A secondary school in my constituency was recently praised by the Office of Standards in Education. It is now about to lose 3.6 teachers. A large primary school in Accrington, in an area of intense social deprivation, a school where four out of five pupils have English as a second language, has lost three teachers in the past six months as a result of the Governments cuts in section 11 funding. Now the head teacher telephones me to say that it will have to lose another three teachers, possibly another four, as a result of that round of cuts.
No, I will not give way. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) has only just returned to the Chamber and my speaking time is limited to 10 minutes.
Leaving aside the current round of cuts that the Government are inflicting on the education system, I should be grateful if, in summing up the debate, the Minister could explain how he justifies the cuts in section 11 funding for children and teachers in schools such as the one to which I have referred in my constituency. It is nothing short of an act of barbarism meted out to the most vulnerable children who are struggling within the education system. The Minister should be ashamed at the way in which the Government have cut that funding.
A primary school in another part of my constituency has received a favourable report from Ofsted, which found good relationships between staff and pupils and very good student behaviour. It is a school of which we can all be proud. However, the head teacher has told me that that school is to lose the equivalent of 2.3 teachers. One of the year 2 classes is to disappear, which will drive up the number of pupils in the other classes. Teachers will lose what little non-contact time they have at present.
That is happening in one school after another, not just in my constituency but up and down the country. Ofsted inspectors make constructive suggestions about how schools can improve, and the schools are keen to implement those suggestions, but they then find themselves unable to do so because they no longer have the resources.
Decision making in schools up and down the country is being driven increasingly not by educational requirements, but by budgetary needs. Children with special educational needs who attend mainstream schools—particularly those children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties—are not being catered for as effectively this year as they were last year, and they will not be provided for as effectively next year as they are being provided for now.
The Government have stubbornly failed to comprehend that the code of practice—which the Opposition welcomed—has resource implications. Until they do so, the problems will be compounded. There are increasing health and safety risks as children are taught in overcrowded classrooms, with dilapidated furniture and equipment that schools cannot afford to replace.
I know that some Conservative Members will seek to blame local education authorities for those problems. I have some experience of the distortions being peddled—not by hon. Members, of course, Madam Speaker, but by Tory central office—about my local education authority in Lancashire. It has been suggested that Lancashire has one bureaucrat for every 17 teachers, but that is not true. To arrive at that figure, one would have to include every educational psychologist in the county, every educational welfare officer, every adviser, and all the staff who deal with statements. They are not pen-pushers or bureaucrats; those people provide essential, core, front-line statutory education services. If Conservative Members do not understand, it shows how much they have to learn about education in this country.
It has been said that Lancashire should allocate more funding to schools so that they would have more money to spend. But Lancashire already spends far in excess of the Governments allocation target on education. Most of the centrally retained funds in Lancashire relate to statements and even if they were delegated to schools it would not compensate for the cash cuts that the Government have imposed.
There has been distortion after distortion, as the Government have sought to evade responsibility for the cuts. They said that Lancashire has large cash reserves. Again, that is not true. The local authority is operating on a minimal budget.
No, I will not give way.
Conservative Members have suggested that Lancashire has too many surplus places. Yet Lancashire has met and exceeded every Department for Education target for reducing those surpluses. If every surplus place in Lancashire were abolished tomorrow, it would save the authority £500,000. But the authority is facing education cuts of £28.3 million in the coming financial year.
The Government are comprehensively failing my children, the children of my constituents, and children up and down the land. The Secretary of State has sought to avoid any responsibility for those cuts, and I am sure that the Minister will do the same in his winding-up speech: he will try to shift the responsibility on to local education authorities, governors and anyone else. But we know who is really responsible: the Secretary of State, the Minister and their colleagues in the Treasury who are more concerned about taking a penny off income tax in six months time in a squalid attempt to bribe the electors yet again rather than spending the money where it is really needed—in the classrooms in my constituency and in those up and down the country. The Governments policy is a disgrace.
I welcome the opportunity to draw attention to the situation in schools in my constituency, and particularly that in the 15 primary schools which I have visited during the past year. I did so in response to an organised campaign urging parents to complain about over-sized classes, adverse comparisons between our education standard spending assessment—[Interruption.] Is there a problem, Madam Speaker?
I am relieved to hear that, Madam Speaker. I was saying that I visited 15 primary schools in my constituency in response to an organised campaign urging parents to complain about over-sized classes, the adverse comparisons of our education SSA with that of neighbouring counties, and a lack of resources generally.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools for his helpful responses to those concerns. He pointed out that parents and teachers can be misled into making false comparisons between the SSAs of local education authorities, and that my local education authority of Dorset has not done at all badly in recent years in response to our representations. A 27 per cent. funding increase between 1991 and 1993 was followed by a 4.9 per cent. increase last year.
I cannot argue with those figures, which are well ahead of inflation. I also cannot argue with the trend in the amount that we receive per pupil compared with other LEAs. It is moving in the right direction. Nevertheless, it is clear from the meetings that I have had with head teachers and from the visits that I have paid to primary schools in my constituency that those schools are deteriorating. Their essential problem is overcrowding, with classes of 35 or more packed into rooms designed to take 25 or fewer. At one school, two toilets serve 100 boys, and in another a mobile classroom has been condemned for eight years. That is simply unacceptable.
Why has that situation arisen? It is simply because the LEA has failed to anticipate and plan for the school population explosion that we are experiencing in the Bournemouth borough. It seems that our present strategic planning system fails to match increasing education provision—that is, school places and class sizes—with planning permissions which inevitably attract young families. It is simply irresponsible to allow new housing developments without providing for the education of the children who move into them. Housing association developments are approved without taking account of the extra provision for special needs that will inevitably be required. I give an unreserved welcome, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), to the Governments acceptance last week of the Local Government Commissions recommendation that Bournemouth should return to unitary authority status and become its own LEA once again.
In spite of that situation, we have no complaints about our teachers. The education standards that are achieved, despite those difficulties, are above the national average. The schools are passing their first ever Ofsted inspections, which is a great tribute to the teachers professionalism, dedication and commitment. I believe that insufficient public acknowledgement is given to the teachers and head teachers who are delivering the educational achievements for which we claim credit. My hon. Friend the Minister will also be encouraged to learn that those teachers whom I met were unanimous in welcoming the more streamlined curriculum, the simplified testing, the 20 per cent. free periods, the promise of less paperwork, and not least the promise of no more changes for the next five years. I hope that that promise will be borne out in fact.
Teachers also welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the review bodys recommended pay increase. I hope and expect that my LEA will enable teachers to receive that increase in full. I have no problem with the policy for LEAs to make provision for teachers pay in their budgets. That is what local government is or should be all about, although this years SSA settlement represents the greatest challenge since education spending was cut by £1.6 billion under the last Labour Government.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in her opening speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it plain in his Budget statement last November that this year is the crunch year for getting our public borrowing down and I fully accept his strategy. If he succeeds, parents, governors and teachers can expect the increased resources for our schools that they rightly demand. What I should like to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend is that the commitment that the Government are honouring to increase resources substantially to the NHS should also be extended to education.
There should be more resources for special needs to ensure the success of the new code of practice which teachers have welcomed. Without extra funding, there is a real danger that some schools will refuse to recognise those children requiring special needs. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replies to this debate, I hope that he will assure me that when Bournemouth becomes an LEA in two years time its education SSA will reflect our urban labour costs better than the present SSA of Dorset has been able to do.
Finally, I hope that every school in my constituency will continue to keep the issue of grant-maintained status on their governors agendas. They owe it to their pupils and to parents not to ignore the resounding success stories of grant-maintained schools. As the headmaster of St. Walbergas school, the only grant-maintained primary school in Bournemouth, told me last month, it has enabled him and his governors to decide their own priorities, it has been good for his school, and he would not go back. That is the message that my right hon. Friend and her team must continue to bring to the attention of every school, notwithstanding the obstacles being put in the way by Labour and Liberal LEAs.
Until a month or so before I came to the House, I was chair of my county council finance committee, and for the past few years, together with my colleagues on Gwent county council, I have strived to protect front-line services from the worst excesses of public spending cuts imposed by the Government.
In the financial settlement for local authorities announced by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Wales, councils were told that they could expect an increase of 2.7 per cent. in funding for the coming year, but when the funding for police was stripped away, and with it the provision for careers services, the real increase is a paltry 0.7 per cent. Against that background, LEAs, working in partnership with school governors, sought to protect our childrens education.
I have been a school governor since I was 18, and I have never known a time when teachers have been more demoralised and so many want to leave the profession. They are good and experienced teachers, such as those I met at last weeks lobby; they are teachers whom the education service can ill afford to lose, but under the present Government they feel undervalued and taken for granted. They are blamed for falling education standards and for all societys ills, from rising crime to industrialists saying that they cannot recruit enough skilled people.
The Governments failure to give teachers the respect that their contribution to society deserves has brought us to the sorry state we are in today, as school governors, many of them supporters of the Conservative party, are faced with the prospect of sacking teachers because they cannot afford to employ them.
The Government will not fund the teachers pay award. What is the reason for that? Can the country not afford it, or do they have something else in mind? Last year, one of the schools in Gwent balloted parents on whether or not it should go grant-maintained. The parents rejected the notion of leaving the partnership with the LEA, but the pro-opt-out campaigners were able to distribute to every parent promoting grant-maintained status a rather classy video produced by the Department for Education at a cost of £64,000. They have no money for textbooks or for teachers pay, but they have plenty of money for political propaganda. That is the record of the Government.
In commenting on the case being made across the country for the Government to allocate additional funds to meet the costs of the teachers pay award, the Chancellor has insisted that LEAs have sufficient funds to meet the award and to fund schools adequately, if only they would reduce the wasteful bureaucracy in town and county halls.
In many LEAs, Gwent included, the councils budget strategy for some years—certainly since local management of schools was introduced—has been designed to protect school budget shares despite cuts imposed by Government.
In the past three years, Gwent county council has taken almost £18 million from balances to sustain front-line services such as education. Schools in Gwent hold almost £8 million in balances, but the money is not evenly shared. Some larger schools have built up balances intended for projects in the coming year. Some have a few hundred pounds, and others have nothing at all.
The formula is so constructed that we cannot do anything to help the schools that are worst off. It is not possible to top-slice school budgets to help less well-off schools, because that would cut right across the board. It would be taking from the poor to help the rich—something that the Conservative party has been doing ever since it came to power.
As for the so-called wasteful central bureaucracy, many education authorities have pursued a vigorous policy of scrutinising all vacancies in order to reduce costs. They have slimmed down central staffing levels, and constantly keep them under review.
In a typical LEA, the proportion of the total education budget controlled by schools themselves is around 65 per cent., the remaining 35 per cent. being used on nursery education, which, despite the sweet words of the Prime Minister, is still the statutory responsibility of local education bodies to provide. They also use it for adult education, public libraries and the so-called bureaucratic central services.
What are the bureaucratic central services that the Conservative party would sweep away without so much as a second glance? They include services provided directly for pupils and students: the operation of home-to-school and home-to-college transport, educational psychology services, services for pupils with special needs, and the operation of discretionary awards to students.
Who are the bureaucrats, and how does sacking them affect learning opportunities? The bureaucrats are those who, for example, prepare statements on special educational needs for pupils with learning difficulties. They are the people who administer free school meals for pupils from families on income support, and there are plenty of those as a result of the Governments dependency culture policy. They deal with pupil welfare and truancy. They support pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds who have poor or little English. They are the architects and engineers who plan and implement education building programmes. They are the craftsmen and technicians who organise and carry out repairs and maintenance to schools. They provide financial management support for heads and governing bodies. They organise the payment of salaries and wages to school staffs, and educate children in hospital or at home if they cannot attend school.
Those people advise and support teachers in the implementation of the national curriculum, and with the number of changes that the Government have made to the national curriculum, that has almost become an industry in itself. They teach pupils to swim or to play a musical instrument. They administer Government regulations on the citizens charter, student awards and grants for education support and training, and ensure that the education Acts are implemented.
Public service is labour-intensive. We cannot take teachers out of the classrooms and sit children in front of computer screens and say that that is education. We cannot sack home care assistants and give every pensioner in the land a microwave and say that that is care in the community, and we cannot take bobbies off the beat, put video cameras on street corners and say that that is policing.
When council budgets are squeezed and various departments compete for funds for services, the number of posts in the central services of an LEA are obviously reduced—to what effect? Parents have to pay for or contribute towards the cost of their children receiving tuition in swimming or a musical instrument. Nursery schools are closed or reduced in size. Tuition for children too ill to attend schools is reduced.
School buildings are not maintained adequately. Awards to students attending further education classes are reduced or delayed. Fewer adult education classes are provided. LEA youth clubs are closed, often with a social price to pay. Delays occur in providing pupils with statements for special educational needs or free school meals. Advice and support for teachers attempting to deliver the full national curriculum are reduced, or totally eliminated in some subjects. Libraries are closed, or have restricted opening hours; school meal prices are raised.
In other words, parents may have to pay more for services. The support given to pupils by local education authorities is reduced. The community as a whole loses learning opportunities in adult education classes and youth activities. Schools are given less support in the fulfilment of their responsibilities, and buildings fall into disrepair.
The Government fail to recognise that local education authorities are non-profit-making organisations, whose only reason for existence is to deliver education in partnership with school governors. LEAs are democratically run by elected councillors, who often work in coalition with teachers, parents and representatives of religious denominations. There is none of the quango state there.
Parents and teachers recognise the value of the support services provided by LEAs: they know that sacking those employed in support services to find money for the teachers pay award is no answer. Adequate funds for teachers and those who support them is needed if we are to deliver a rich and meaningful education service—but I fear that hell will freeze over before the Conservative party recognises that.
Education is important to everyone, not just those going through the school system or parents of schoolchildren. It highlights major differences between the main political parties. This country needs a well-educated and well-trained work force to compete in world markets, and the Governments education policies will ensure that we secure it.
I was disappointed by the speech of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who confirmed what people in my borough of Bexley have always believed—that Liberal Democrats have no education policies, local or national. Conservative Members have a distinctive education philosophy that encompasses opportunity, choice and diversity; we also strongly believe in standards, discipline and testing in schools. We want parents, as the primary educators of children who have a vital role to play, to be allowed choice. Labour does not believe in opportunity and choice for parents: the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) contained no policies, and no concern for parents or standards.
I was privileged to attend a grammar school in the 1960s, where I was given a very good education. Such schools were destroyed by the Labour party in the 1960s and 1970s, and replaced by huge monolithic comprehensives. In the 1970s, I was a school governor in Hackney, and saw at first hand what Labour local government was like under a Labour Administration. We endured appalling standards, demoralised teachers and a general decline in education. During the past 16 years, there has been a gradual improvement, with education reforms, investment and development.
The untruths that we have heard from Opposition Members must be nailed. They do not like to be reminded of their record when Labour was in office in the 1960s and 1970s, when resources were reduced and standards fell. Expectations were low then, and teachers were demoralised. We know, however, that, since 1979, spending per pupil has increased by 50 per cent. in real terms; spending on books and equipment has risen by 55 per cent. in real terms. Opposition Members do not like to hear those figures, but we must continually remind them of the facts.
Teacher vacancies are now at an all-time low, and teachers pay has increased by 59 per cent. in real terms since 1979. That is a real achievement, thanks to Conservative policies and Conservative government: that is what is really happening in education, and what has happened for the past 16 years.
I want to concentrate on two aspects of education: nursery education and education for those over 16, in which regard I think the Government still have work to do. Much of the debate over the past 30 years has centred on secondary schools—their type and organisation, the implications of the national curriculum, the effects of local management of schools and grant-maintained status and so forth.
Indeed they are—all opposed by Labour, all supported by parents and all doing good in the education world. The Government should be congratulated on re-establishing the foundations of good, balanced, effective secondary education: it now provides choice, diversity, opportunity and improving standards.
In primary education, too, considerable strides have been made. The return to good, traditional teaching is bringing results. A number of primary schools in my constituency and my borough of Bexley never abandoned the traditional approach, and continue to flourish. St Paulinus Church of England school in Crayford, under the leadership of Mr. Vinall, has an excellent reputation, as has Hillsgrove school in Welling, which I visited last Friday. I was extremely impressed by the work of the head teacher, Mrs. Spooncer, and her staff. As I toured the school with the chairman of the governors, Councillor John Raggett, I observed much good practice, achievement and enthusiastic learning.
That is what we have achieved in 16 years of Conservative government: that is the real story of education today—not the doom and gloom that we hear from the Labour party, or the non-policies advanced by the hon. Member for Bath.
I commend the Prime Ministers commitment to expanding nursery provision. My borough of Bexley already has a rolling programme of increased provision, established by the previous Conservative-controlled council. I believe that children benefit from learning and socialising before they reach the statutory school age. I am well aware that some 90 per cent. of three and four-year-olds are already involved in some form of pre-school activity, and I support the expansion of nursery education, but I urge my hon. Friend the Minister not to abandon the Conservative belief in choice and variety.
The establishment of a monolithic provision by local authorities would be a disaster. I strongly support the voucher system: not only would parents be allowed a real choice, but the providers of nursery education would have to ensure that they were offering parents and pupils the highest standard of service.
I am also concerned about the possible effects on playgroups. My constituency has some excellent playgroups, providing a first-class service for children, parents and the local community. I do not want such good institutions to be destroyed. My recent visits to local groups—including a first-class group at Christchurch in Erith—have shown me the educational content, the dedication of group leaders, the support of mothers and the enthusiasm of the children. We must not destroy good organisations; we must ensure that balance and choice are available in future provision.
Much has been achieved in post-16 education, and there is a good story to tell. I congratulate the Ministers, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), the Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education, who recently visited our local university in south-east London—the university of Greenwich, where so much good work has been done.
I stress that, like other speakers, I strongly support the traditional A-level examination and school sixth forms, both of which provide a benchmark of excellence which should not be destroyed. Sixth-form education also enhances schools in many ways. Sixth-form education and A-levels are not popular with the Labour party, but Conservative Members believe that they have a vital part to play in education for those over 16.
My borough is fortunate in having a first-class further education college, Bexley college. Under its principal, Dr. Jim Healey, it is another success story. The Governments policy of giving colleges autonomy and freedom from LEA control has helped the sector enormously. The expansion of Bexley colleges pupil numbers and courses is a worthwhile consequence of that development. More resources, vocational courses, students and mature students have given post-16 education a boost. I welcome the Governments achievements. I am a great believer in continuing education, and welcome the post-16 development.
We have only to remember the way the Inner London education authority operated to know that money alone does not guarantee good education. More money per pupil was put into ILEA than into any other authority. More money was also wasted by that profligate authority. The results were disastrous. We abolished ILEA and gave more power to parents, teachers and governors.
That is the way forward in increasing success and raising standards, and Government policies are the right policies. They are supported by parents, and the results will show in educational achievement—and the pupils will be the beneficiaries.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). In 21 years in the House, I have never heard a more snivelling and ingratiating speech. Such a speech makes Uriah Heep sound like a man of principle. It was appalling.
The one good thing about the hon. Gentlemans presence in the House is that at least it means that he is not lecturing schoolchildren. One can say little else about such a speech. Any resemblance between it and educational realities is purely coincidental. I hope that the hon. Gentlemans opponents at the next general election, whoever they are, will point that out.
The picture in the metropolitan borough of Sandwell is a good deal less rosy than that painted by Conservative Members. The four of us who have the honour to represent constituencies in that borough are, as you know, Madam Speaker, seeking a meeting with Ministers to discuss education provision and the shortfall arising from the settlement that we are debating. The capital programme allocation for the borough totals only £275,000 for a population of 250,000 people, which is parsimonious to say the least. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will offer some hope.
At that level, the settlement represents a loss of £1 million per annum on recent years. Given the problems and backlog of work in the primary and secondary sectors in Sandwell, the settlement is intolerable. For primary schools, there is a backlog of £10 million, including £8.5 million for three replacement schools for Warley infant, Black Heath primary and Great Bridge primary schools.
The head teacher and chair of governors of Tipton Green junior school in your constituency, Madam Speaker, have written to all four Members of Parliament about its phase 2 project, describing as a paltry sum the capital building allocation—particularly that for Tipton Green. Given that phase 1 has been completed, it would be scandalous and wasteful not to proceed with phase 2. I hope that the Minister will comment when he winds up, or when he meets the boroughs Members of Parliament, as I hope he will, in the near future.
There is a similarly sad story to be told in respect of secondary schools. We have heard much about the so-called irresponsibility of local education authorities. Most are controlled by the Labour party because of the present Governments prolonged incompetence. It will not do for Conservative Members to shrug off all responsibility for the crisis facing schools in Sandwell and elsewhere by blaming the LEA.
I will pick at random one item of secondary education expenditure in Sandwell—Menzies high school in my constituency, where a serious fire last year destroyed one building. The insurance claim shortfall for the cost of replacing that building is £500,000. One cannot blame the LEA, but the Government are giving no consideration to meeting that shortfall.
Dartmouth high school is the biggest LEA school in the west midlands, with more than 1,700 pupils. It faces a £1.1 million bill for replacements and general repairs. Its all-weather sports pitch cannot be used, because of lack of money for repairs. Three teachers retiring this year cannot be replaced, according to the chair of governors to whom I spoke this afternoon, because the school does not have the funds. He said, Its a blessing that we had a comparatively mild winter, because we have spent money allocated to the gas bill on general upkeep and repairs—broken windows and the other things that happen in schools these days. Again, no provision has been made for that in the schools capital grant settlement.
Worst of all for Dartmouth high school, given that its orchestra is well known throughout the west midlands, £7,000 has been cut from its music budget. What is wrong with the Government that they cannot see the damage being done to schools and education in areas such as mine?
Many figures have been bandied about, and most of those from the Secretary of State were misleading. In Sandwell, budget share per pupil in the primary sector in the financial year 1993–94 was £1,322. In 1995–96, it will fall to £1,319. The share per pupil is even worse in the secondary sector. In 1993–94, it was £2,041. In 1995–96, it will be down to £2,000.
Taking 1993–94 as a base, and allowing for inflation of 3 per cent. in 1994–95 and 2.5 per cent. in 1995–96, just to stand still Sandwell should have a budget share per primary pupil of £1,396, but it is receiving £77 less. In the secondary sector, it should have £2,155, but it will have £155 less than that per pupil.
Why is Sandwells allocation per pupil done on the cheap? Why do each of the pupils whom I and my hon. Friends represent have a budget share of £200 less than pupils in the borough of Westminster? Why do the Government think they can continue getting away with rigging standard spending assessments to favour a few chosen boroughs? There is no fairness in the allocation of resources, particularly for education, when a borough such as Sandwell suffers from real terms cuts.
Much has been said about the Governments failure to fund the teachers pay rise. It is a collective act of hypocrisy to agree a figure at national level but refuse to fund it, saying that it is someone elses problem and that local authorities such as Sandwell are supposed to find the money from their own resources. Do not the Government accept any responsibility for their decisions? Will it always be somebody elses fault? The Government are fooling nobody. One week ago, there was a lobby of thousands of teachers, governors and parents from all over the country. None of them is fooled by the Governments propaganda. They know full well who is to blame.
At least one good thing came out of that lobby. On the day of the lobby, national officers of the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters met in my office at Millbank. If those two unions can come together under one roof without falling out with each other, clearly something serious must have happened. They were not discussing wages, or funding the 2.7 per cent.; they knew who was to blame for that. They were more concerned, as professionals, about the damage being done to the education of the children for whom they feel responsible in boroughs such as mine.
The next election cannot come quickly enough for most Opposition Members—although of course the opposite applies to the Conservative party. The Government are planning to give away some money in taxes before the election. That is why money is being withheld from school budgets all over the country—to fund tax cuts. Meanwhile, the Government have done incalculable damage to our education infrastructure and the prospects of many of our children, especially in boroughs such as Sandwell. We shall hang that around their necks, and they will suffer for it at the next election.
I should like to sound a slightly different note. Although I hold no brief for Labour-controlled Nottinghamshire county council, I must point out that if it had adopted the budget that the Conservatives suggested, things would have been a lot easier. Like many other county councils, our county council must look much more carefully at its overall spending—that message has come through time and again this afternoon. The councils overtime bill for staff, for instance, is £10 million.
We have 20,000 surplus school places in our county: one in four desks is empty. That problem has persisted for many years. If the county did not have those surplus places, we would be able to fund every child by another £250. That is a fundamental point.
I must however suggest to Ministers, who sometimes believe that dealing with surplus places provides the only answer, that it may not. I have followed the advice frequently and rightly given us by the Secretary of State, and have found out what is going on in my local authority. We need to know that, although sometimes it is difficult to find out what is happening. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister, with the resources available to his Department, to consider finding out, county by county, where there are inefficiencies and where improvements could be made, so that we can target and make responsible the people who should be far more active in funding our schools.
Here I sound the note of caution which has not thus far been expressed by any other Conservative Member. Ministers will be aware that there is a great deal of disquiet about how schools are to be funded this year—in Conservative as well as in Labour constituencies. I have expressed that concern in correspondence with the Secretary of State on behalf of schools, parents, teachers, and governors. I am sure that colleagues in the House have done the same.
What is not always clear—I hope to have the answer from my right hon. Friend when she replies to me—is what has gone wrong and who is at fault. Still, the anxiety is genuine, and it is non-political. We need to know exactly what funding is going into our schools.
I have corresponded with the director of education on the county council; he has been most helpful, and I have no complaints about how he has informed me of what is going on. He tells me that there has been a reduction in the aggregated schools budget in Nottinghamshire of £11.280 million for 1995–96. That represents almost exactly the equivalent of the amount that I quoted earlier which is paid out in overtime to county council staff.
I can accept a 1.2 per cent. increase this year, tough though it is. What I find more difficult is learning how school after school in my constituency is having trouble balancing its books for the coming year. I offer two examples. Tuxford comprehensive school, a fine, large school, is experiencing a cut of £160,000. That is extremely difficult to live with. It must be very difficult to maintain the schools standards following a cut of that order.
A school at the opposite end of the range, Muskham county primary school, is receiving £6,363 less than it got last year, while taking on five more pupils than it had last year. That brings its pupil numbers up to 138. The head quite properly wants to balance his books—he does not want to get into deficit—but the way he has to do so is worrying. He is cutting down on midday school supervision. His governors tell me that health and safety cover in the playground is minimal and a cause for worry. He is cutting his secretarial assistance to two and a half days a week. In a school of 138 pupils that is clearly ridiculous. He is doing most of his own typing. What a waste of a professional mans time! He is an excellent and experienced teacher, and this should not be happening.
Something has clearly gone wrong, and teachers, parents and governors tell us that it is our fault. So the time may have come for Ministers to look more closely at how schools are funded this year and at the effects of the cuts on education, school by school. This has gone beyond being a political matter. It is an education matter now.
It is quite true that the county council is guilty of inefficiency. In theory, the regime can be rejected at the next local elections, but that is of little comfort to parents and schools now.
I am sorry, I have only three minutes left.
There is some mileage in the argument that the county has surplus school places. This afternoon, I took a deputation to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools to discuss the amalgamation of schools—not to object to it, but to make certain improving suggestions. Of course, until those amalgamations are approved and take place, the surplus places will not be available for savings for the county. Although we have far too many surplus school places, it is not always easy to wipe them out at a stroke and thereby to save money this year.
I also took up with the director of education the amount of school balances in the county. Interestingly, of the nearly £15 million of balances in the schools, 37 per cent. in primary schools and 43 per cent. in secondary schools is being used to pay for the schools survival this year. So we are right to point out that there are school balances that can be used, but sometimes we need to look more closely and see whether they are just floating about unused or whether they are allocated and unavailable. I am informed by the director that 77 per cent. of primary balances and 84 per cent. of secondary balances are specifically earmarked. If a school has no balances, it is not terribly satisfactory to be told that there are balances somewhere else. School by school, there is not a great deal of fat that can be used.
For those reasons, I support the Government. I believe that there are savings that our county councils can make, but I want to alert my hon. Friend to the situation in many schools, particularly in my constituency.
I must tell the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) that education essentially is a political matter. The Government have had 16 years to show the nation, parents, employers and children that they can be trusted on education, that they can be trusted to deliver excellence and high standards for all our children.
Todays debate is an opportunity to judge the record of the Government. It is a record that shows an unforgivable betrayal of trust, a betrayal which some Conservative Members will try to hide by being economical with the truth, but a betrayal that is felt by thousands of men and women, boys and girls in communities, families and industries the length and breadth of the country.
Let us examine the record on what counts—whether enough money has been invested in the most effective way to achieve the appropriate outcomes for our children, and they are our children. Too few hon. Members who occupy the Conservative Benches trust the system for which they are responsible. Too few of them use state schools for their own children, and that indictment speaks for itself.
So what is the record? I am not thinking here of those at the top of the pile, who are likely to succeed whatever the state of our schools. My concern is for those from less-privileged backgrounds, who will be able to fulfil their potential only if we ensure that they have the opportunity of well-resourced and rigorous schooling. It is for them in particular that we need proper investment in education. We know that schools do make a difference. All the many studies tell us that. It is therefore the overwhelming duty of Government to ensure effective policies and well-resourced schools, so that our schools can make a difference for all our children.
The Prime Minister himself accepted that it is the job of Government to tackle inequality. Nowhere is that more important than in education, yet the Prime Ministers deeds belie his words. That will never be the case for Labour in government. We intend to tackle inequality, and for that reason, education is our passion.
So let us look at the record. It is a national scandal that one in three of our seven-year-olds fails to reach the Governments set standard in handwriting. A similar number fail in spelling, and almost one in four fails to reach the grade in arithmetic. It is not good enough to say two out of three succeed. The reality is that one in three fails. Yet the Government have so under-resourced primary schools that 1 million children are being taught in classes of more than 30. Think of it. Hon. Members should imagine themselves in the place of a teacher of five and six-year-olds, with 30 children. It would take that person five hours a day to hear each child read. If one cannot hear them read, how can one expect them to reach the required standard of reading? Of course class size counts, especially at the primary level, and that is why the financial settlement is wrong.
Furthermore, we know that an effective school depends on effective leadership—a first-class head. Yet reports earlier this year showed that governing bodies were finding it increasingly difficult to recruit head teachers. In London, three in 10 headships were not filled at the first attempt in 1994. In primary schools, the number of vacancies nationwide rose from 1,509 in 1993 to 1,790 in 1994. Why? One reason is that we simply do not value and pay primary head teachers enough. Secondly, we do not invest sufficiently and effectively in head teacher training. We get what we pay for, and that is often not good enough for our children.
Again, the Government ignore the evidence. How a child performs at seven is one of the greatest influences on GCSE scores. Extensive research by the Institute of Education shows that nearly 25 per cent. of the variation in GCSE scores was accounted for by performance at age seven. The Governments failure to resource our primary schools properly betrays our children. At the age of seven, they begin to fail. By 14, the results are worse. One in three cannot master basic English, maths and science. That national failure places the country at the bottom of the league table of advanced industrial countries.
Taking the most recent set of comparable statistics, only 27 per cent.—just over one in four—of 16-year-olds secured GCSE passes in maths, English and a science in 1990–91. That compares with 66 per cent.—two out of three—in France, 62 per cent. in Germany and 50 per cent. in Japan. At A-level, the figures are 80 per cent. in Japan, 68 per cent. in Germany and 48 per cent. in France, yet just 29 per cent. in England.
What an indictment of our education service. Why is that happening? Because the Government have focused their resources on those who are most likely to succeed anyway, not on those who most need support. We should not be surprised. They are a Government who reward the rich and punish the poor. They have done so in tax. They have done so on wages and they are doing so in education.
The Government tell the nation that they believe in choice for parents. Yet in practice their policy does not deliver that choice. By focusing on the few, not on the many, they are creating oversubscribed schools, which, in turn, become more and more selective, so that the schools are choosing the parents, rather than the parents choosing the schools. That is why appeals by parents for places in their chosen school have increased by a staggering 420 per cent. in four years. The way to increase choice is to improve quality, not just in a few centres of excellence but in all our schools for all our children.
Our schools are in crisis. The Secretary of State knows that, but she cannot admit it publicly. Nobody out there believes the Governments figures. It is a classic case of lies, damned lies and statistics. Out there in the schools, they know the truth. Parents know, governors know, teachers know. Tory councillors—admittedly a rare breed these days—know that their Government are letting us down. The Governments formula for the standard spending assessment for education is woefully inadequate. In my borough of Barking and Dagenham, the Government use 1991 figures to calculate the number of children entitled to free school meals. In fact, poverty has increased since then, mostly as a direct result of the Governments policy, so the council is losing around £1 million, which it could have spent on educating children in the classroom.
I now address another crucial point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said, it was 1972 when Baroness Thatcher, then Secretary of State for Education, said in her White Paper that, within the following 10 years
nursery education should become available without charge, to those children of three or four whose parents wish them to benefit from it.
The Prime Minister, at the Conservative party conference last year, placed great emphasis on the importance of nursery education. Although his was a lesser pledge, the speech was welcomed as a step forward.
Since then, we have heard much but seen nothing. Sheila Lawlor, the architect of many of the Governments disastrous education reforms, has been pushing for vouchers because she is so hostile to publicly funded and publicly provided nursery education. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has put in his oar and has shown up yet more divisions in the Government ranks by suggesting a beauty contest between competing providers. There has been reference to a leaked letter from the Secretary of State to her Conservative colleagues. Is that yet another example of the Government breaking their promises?
The evidence that the availability of services for under-fives gives children a head start in life is overwhelming. A recent study in Wandsworth showed that children will benefit.
Sixteen years of Conservative education has failed our children. The latest round of education cuts has awakened middle England. Most governors, teachers, parents and children know that. We look forward to an early opportunity to implement our- policy in government.
I am not prepared to take any lectures from the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). I spent 23 years teaching in comprehensive schools and in adult education and my three children attended state schools. That is characteristic of my hon. Friends and it is wrong of the hon. Lady to try to say that the reverse is the case. She has a great deal to answer for. She presided over the borough of Islington which demoralised excellent schools, such as Highbury Grove, by disgraceful and unsatisfactory appointments of heads and teachers. Such was the extent of it that the leader of her party will not use any school in that borough. What sort of tribute to the hon. Lady is that? What did she do for children? She did nothing but put them down the drain. For her to deliver such a sanctimonious speech is totally unacceptable and absolute nonsense. It convinces no one, and I am sure that it will not convince any of her electors or anyone in her party.
Labour has no ideas for education. It simply suggests that we must go back to what it attempted to give the country when it was in government. There has been no new thinking at all, and that is serious. If I were a Labour party supporter I would be terribly worried. The party has no dynamism on what is perhaps our most important subject for debate. It produces nothing except grumbles. But what is happening in education is important and valuable and it is a tribute to the Government.
There are many more nursery places than ever before and, as I said in an intervention during the speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), a former leader of the Labour party came to my constituency and promised a nursery place for every child if Labour won the local election, which it did. That deceit helped the party to victory and it now resolutely refuses to implement that pledge. I was at well-attended public meetings of parents who demanded that Labour implement its promise. But it will not, and the party will pay heavily for that because parents know that they have been sold a pup and deceived.
Willow Tree primary school has a great need for expanded nursery school education, but it has not got that. Wood End infants grant-maintained school also wants to expand nursery education. It has the room and has everything in place, but the local council will not allow it. Compared with the record of its predecessor Conservative council, which put in no fewer than 400 new nursery places during its term of office at a cost of £1 million, that is a pretty dismal performance and Labour will answer for that as for so much else.
There is no point in the Labour party spokesman talking to the heads of grant-maintained schools, as he did last week, because they report to me. All but one secondary school in my constituency are grant-maintained. In some instances the parents, governors and head teachers achieved that status against bitter opposition by the Labour party. On one occasion not only the education committee chairman, Hilary Benn, but the deputy chairman of education and the education officer and deputy education officer in Ealing opposed grant-maintained status.
The parents could not have been more pressurised not to go grant-maintained. Every attempt was made to intimidate them. On my recommendation, a former leader of the Labour party, Mr. Neil Kinnock, had sent his daughter and son to that school in my constituency. I am glad that he did because they have both done well. That is a tribute to them and, in a way, to him. That school had to work hard to become grant-maintained and it will not give up that status. It will not be cheated out of it by weasel words such as, We will try to find some way to work with grant-maintained schools. The school is determined to retain its independence and the Labour party had better understand that.
The value of the school maintaining its independence is that it does so well. The parents support the school, which is oversubscribed. Maintenance is of a standard that has not been seen before. As I have said before in the House, Northholt grant-maintained high school saved £70,000 on cleaning by cutting out the cleaning services of the local authority. I can tell the hon. Member for Barking and everybody else that that money is used to buy books, pencils, rubbers and teachers. That is the advantage of such a saving. The hon. Member for Barking shakes her head, but how does she know? I can tell her that that is the truth. That is what parents want and it is what they will have.
Labour is already giving out the jobs that will follow the next general election. It has another think coming. Labour has done that four times in a row and is doing it again, but it will have a big surprise. Opposition Members have convinced themselves as never before that they will win the election but they will not because Labour has nothing to offer people and people know that.
As we have heard, spending on education has increased by 50 per cent. since 1979. Is not it a great tribute to our Government and to the people and children of this land that one child in three goes on to higher education compared with one in eight formerly? If that is not a tribute to every level of education and to dedicated work by teachers I do not know what is. It is not as if there are high failure rates. Students going into higher education achieve good degrees and there are very few drop-outs. That statistic speaks for itself.
I could say much more. Britain now spends more on education than on defence. For many years Labour said that we had our values wrong because we spent more on defence than on education. It did not care about the fact that there could be no education if the land was not defended and was overrun or demoralised. Labour Members made much of that moral argument, as they called it. Now that the balance is so greatly changed it is right to draw attention to it. It is right that the balance should be in favour of education because that is where the future of the country lies. At £28 billion a year, our spending on education is high and compares with that of any other country.
I must mention my constituency. In Ealing the local council has £17 million in reserve so there is no excuse for selling schools short. I question the figures that Labour puts about. A few days ago I went into a primary school and the chairman of the governors, who is a Labour party supporter and a former councillor, said to me, Harry, there will be a shortfall of £45,000 on the school budget. That will mean two teachers going and I shall make sure that the parents know that it is your Government who have done it. I said, What is the pay budget? What is the cost of teachers this year? The head teacher got the figures out. The cost was £302,000 for the year. I said that the award was 2.7 per cent., and that that did not tome to £45,000. We do not always hear the right and honest figure. Every time a figure is thrown around, we should quote the true figure, question the first figure, and find out whether it is right or wrong and what the true facts are. We shall find that, for political purposes, there is quite a lot of misrepresentation of figures.
In my professional life in schools, I always stood for high standards in work, attendance and behaviour. Over many years, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) and I worked together to that end. High standards of work, attendance and behaviour are the policies of the Conservative party and the Government. With such policies, we stand by children in the way that we must for their future achievement.
This years education budgets have left teachers, parents and governors bewildered and angry. They are even more perplexed by the attempt of the Secretary of State for Education to pretend that that is somehow the fault of local education authorities, but parents are not so easily fooled. They know who to blame and why that has happened.
Governors and parents are fully aware that the Government are cutting public expenditure so that they can make Budget tax cuts next year in time for a feel-good factor before the general election. People are angry that their children are being made to suffer for cheap political expediency. On this occasion, the Secretary of State and her friends in the Cabinet will find that they have made the worst mistake of their political lives.
Let us consider what has happened in the Secretary of States own county of Norfolk. She says that spending on schools there has increased, but the standard spending assessment per secondary school pupil in Norfolk is £100 less than it was in 1992–93. I wonder if she thinks that she can disguise that as an increase in spending. The Norfolk education budget has had a cut of £3.3 million. The local authority has chosen to cut discretionary awards, community education, adult education and school meals.
What about the next-door county of Cambridgeshire, in which the Prime Minister and I have our constituencies? In Cambridgeshire, the SSA per secondary school pupil is £64 less than it was in 1992–93. It is difficult to disguise that as an increase in spending. The education budget is being cut by £4 million in Cambridgeshire. Even that is not as bad as was originally feared, because the county has taken £7 million out of county budget reserves, which were put aside for a rainy day. It is a rainy day today, and the trouble is that, if it continues to rain next year and the year after, nothing will be left in the reserves to bail out the countys budget—and schools are looking to make a £10 million cut in 1996–97.
The education committee in Cambridgeshire has had to consider cuts in a number of sectors. They have included the community education service, in which Cambridgeshire once had a proud record, charging for school transport, and changing arrangements for admission for the rising fives. Presumably, that has resulted from pressure from Conservative Members of Parliament in the county, who have had their statutory letter from the Secretary of State urging that schooling for under-fives should be one of the sectors to be cut.
The Secretary of State has said that councils are capable of putting more money into education if they choose to do so, but that they do not choose to do so. In Cambridgeshire, we have always spent well above the SSA on education. Even when the county council inherited the budget from Conservative control in 1993–94, spending on education was 4.1 per cent. above the SSA. Education spending in 1994–95 was 6.1 per cent. above the SSA and it is predicted that in 1995–96 it will be 6.6 per cent. above SSA. That is not without pain. Education spending increases mean cuts elsewhere. The county council has already had to make some difficult and painful decisions.
Let us consider another of the Secretary of States statements. She said:
Too much money is kept back by the Education Department for central costs. A recent Audit Commission report showed that local authorities could make efficiency savings of £500 million.
In Cambridgeshire, this years spending on administration per pupil is £34.55. The county average is £43.47, so Cambridgeshire is spending 20 per cent. less on administration than the county average.
The other extraordinary statement made by the Prime Minister was that there are two administrators for every three teachers. In Cambridgeshire, there are 10 teachers for every administrator. If we take cleaners and caretakers out of the definition of an administrator, the ratio of teachers to administrators is more than 20 to one. I wonder where the Prime Minister obtained those extraordinary figures. Is he still sticking by them? They sound as if they came out of some random number generator.
What do parents and governors think? I have had more than 400 letters about education service cuts and it is difficult to find anyone who believes that the county council is to blame. All of them know that the Government are imposing the cuts. I am surprised not to see some of the right hon. and hon. Members who represent Cambridgeshire constituencies in the Chamber. At least one of them has been outspoken about the cuts, particularly when speaking to my local newspaper, the Cambridge Evening News. I wonder why he is not here tonight to express some of those views so that Ministers with responsibility for education can hear them.
In my brief visit on Monday to a special school, the Rees Thomas school for children with severe learning difficulties, I saw some excellent work by dedicated staff, some worrying deterioration in playground furniture—which is due to be condemned by health and safety officials next year—and overcrowding that severely restricts education opportunities for those children. Two of the governors invited me to visit the school so that I could see for myself the difficulties that it is working under even before further cuts are imposed.
A letter on behalf of one of the secondary schools in my constituency states that staffing will be cut from 32.7 to 30.4. It says that that will mean that some classes will increase from 24 to 30 pupils. One of the parents from that school wrote to me:
Good education is not cheap. But the results of an inadequate education system are too costly to contemplate.
Another person writes that she would rather education standards were maintained than have one or two pennies off her income tax. I know that that view is widely shared in my constituency.
Another school that wrote to me is one of the few ecumenical schools in my part of the world. I remember that the school was threatened with closure in the mid-1980s. Since then, it has made great efforts. Its standards are now excellent and it has a strong parental following. One of the reasons why people are able and choose to send their children there is that the county council promised that it would provide children with free transport to that school. That promise has had to be broken. The county council is having to impose a charge of £25 per term for each pupil travelling to that school. The schools very existence depends on pupils travelling from a distance. I fear that the only children who will be able to attend that school in future will be those whose family have money or who live nearby.
I finish by quoting from a letter that I received from Cambridge and district chamber of commerce and industry. It points out that the southern part of the county may lose 75 teaching posts and states that industry and commerce depend on a well-trained work force and are afraid that it will not he possible to maintain proper standards because of the freezing of money spent on education and because of the failure to fund the teachers pay increase. Those people would not complain about education cuts if they did not believe that education in the county was in crisis. I urge Ministers to listen carefully to what is being said by such people because we are talking about the future of our nation and of our country.
The Labour motion refers to
the threat to standards, opportunity and achievement,
yet nothing has been said or done by the Labour party in the House or in the country to contribute ideas that would lead to the raising of standards, an increase in opportunities and the full recognition of achievement. Nor do I believe that Labour supporters in control of local authorities in areas such as Kent—and Kent in particular—have any other agenda than the policies of the 1960s.
This education debate, like so many others, shows the state of intellectual honesty in the Labour party today. Principles have been hidden and commitments fudged because nothing must be said or done unless it is to the benefit of the Labour party. Wheeling, dealing, dodging and downright deceit have always been the posture of the Liberal Democrats, but it is only in the past two years that we have begun to realise that they are also the stance of the Labour party. It is very sad that a once great party should descend to the level of the Liberal Democrats in the way that it chooses not to present its policies as it should. The Labour party is revealing not its intellectual honesty but its intellectual dishonesty.
A few days ago, the Leader of the Opposition said, I have a passion for education, for order, for law, for cold water and for apple pie. The trouble is that no one knows precisely what that means. Of course, it is evidence of the soundbite mania of the spin doctors who have now been Mandelised into the Labour party, that the Leader of the Opposition is having to say that he has a passion for this and for that—it does not matter for what, as long as it wins votes. Labour is being told to forget its principles; winning is all that matters. There is no longer any intellectual honesty in the Labour party.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) has shown great interest in the county of Kent. I welcome that because whenever left wingers from Liverpool come to Kent our majorities shoot up even higher than they were. However, the hon. Gentleman has taken an interest, and we are having a real debate.
Like his colleagues, the hon. Gentleman will have to learn that to find the true voice of the Labour party in Kent one needs to speak to those who control the county council, who wish to abolish grammar schools, take back grant-maintained status from schools, close the city technology college and do away with all that we have done. That is the true voice of the Stalinist Labour party, as I have known it all my life.
Tonight we need from the hon. Member for Walton some account of the row taking place between his team and the Leader of the Opposition. I would love to know what is happening because, clearly, there is no great joy or happiness but, rather, a darkness, between them. Indeed, we know that that is the case elsewhere. There is a darkness between the Leader of the Opposition and his spokespersons in the health team and, of course, there is absolute, total blackness between the Leader of the Opposition and the deputy leader. Perhaps we can look forward to a bit of excitement from the Labour spokesman tonight. I say, Give us the beef. Tell us the truth about what is happening in the Labour party, and let us see whether John Humphrys uses it on the Today programme tomorrow.
The House knows that I have been a strong advocate for schools in my constituency for as long as I have been a Member of Parliament. There are nine grant-maintained schools in Dartford—the Dartford grammar school for boys; the Dartford grammar schools for girls; the Wilmington grammar school for boys; the grammar school for girls, Wilmington; the Horton Kirby primary school; the Sutton-at-Hone primary school; Wilmington primary school; the Holy Trinity Church of England primary school; and Our Lady Roman Catholic school in Hartley.
All of those schools have taken advantage of the opportunity to break free from the bureaucracy of local authorities. We also have a city technology college in Dartford, so we have a real choice which the Labour party would destroy. There are 60,000 children educated in grant-maintained schools in the county of Kent. I warn those 60,000 children and their 60,000 families—many hundreds of thousands of voters—to watch out because Labour will destroy their schools.
We have to read the press to find out what Labour party policy is, inasmuch as the Labour party knows what it is or inasmuch as its spokespersons are allowed to reveal it. On 19 March, Andrew Grice wrote an article in The Sunday Times with the headline, Labour Pledge to ballot parents on handing back of opt-out schools. The small print states:
Schools that vote against returning to town hall control, however, will not be permitted to operate in isolation from their community; some governors would be appointed by the local authority.
In other words, a school can have democracy—it can stay in local authority control or vote to opt out—but, if it does not vote to come back in, Labour will put a majority of governors on the governing body to ensure that it does.
That is the lesson of Liverpool and inner London in the 1970s and 1980s. Labour will appoint a majority of governors on the governing body and intimidate the head, the teachers and the parents and force the school back into LEA control because that is Labours wish. Labour wants nothing but the comprehensive system. That is what Labour is about.
It is a strange phenomenon but I feel that, at long last, we are having a dialogue—at least I am having one with myself—on what the Labour party believes. I like the hon. Member for Walton, who, is a nice chap. I am sure that he is—anyone who takes on the Militants in Liverpool cannot be wholly bad.
I want Labours policy spelt out. It is an act of gross dishonesty not to reveal the truth. Under Labour, parents would see their schools going back into LEA control. They have to be told by the Conservatives what Labour will do. Labour would bring in the thought police and get them on the governing bodies of schools and, by hook or by crook, by intimidation, threat and sheer pressure from the organised vested interests in our communities, bring schools back into local authority control. That would be a monstrous thing to do.
I expect the hon. Member for Waltons winding-up speech to be brief so I hope that he will explain to me in writing something that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said today. He said that Kent had spent £9 million on a nursery voucher experiment. I think that the hon. Member for Walton is nodding, or else he has a nervous tick. In any event, he is indicating that I am right.
I have checked with the county council. There was an experiment that was financed and surveyed but not put in place. Had the county council put it in place in Ashford, the cost would have been £1.2 million but, as it was not put in place, the cost was not £9 million, nor was it £1.2 million. May we have an apology today, or later in writing?
I believe that the Government are going to make great strides with this policy. People like it and want it and do not want it taken away. If the Labour party wishes to protect its own interests, it should start to side with grant-maintained schools, the parents and governors. I hope that, in time, the Conservative party will decide that all schools should be grant-maintained. Let us have done with the dead hand of local authorities and the dead hand of Stalinism that exists in Kent and Liverpool.
I hope that the hon. Member for Walton will explain to the House in words of one syllable, so that even in Liverpool they can understand what he is saying, why Liverpool has domestic rates arrears of £23 million, community charge arrears of £68 million and council tax arrears of £10.7 million. That is the missing money; that is where the problem lies. It lies with the Labour party and with those in local government who support it and we must have none of it.
It is a great pleasure to follow the voice of—to use the phrase of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn)—a once great party, with its £15 million overdraft, its disappearing membership and its universally reviled policies. It is very nice to hear the hon. Gentleman talking about Stalinists in Kent—
No, he did not mention Liverpool.
The Government have a simple purpose behind the cuts that they are inflicting on education, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) explained. Our school and college students are to pay for the core of the Governments next election campaign: income tax cuts. All their efforts are now bent on shifting the blame to local education authorities. They will use every statistical lie and every myth that they conjure to that end. Their efforts are not succeeding and their sheer desperation has been indicated by the Secretary of States decision to encourage her Back Benchers to give the black spot to nursery spending. Tory Back Benchers seem wisely to avoid being seen doing that. Indeed, they are usually at the front of the queue, demanding more nursery provision from their LEAs for their constituents; and who can blame them.
The basic figures which explain what is happening are clear enough. I shall, of course, use Lancashire as my example. Lancashires education standard spending assessment for next year is £484 million—£37.6 million less than it spent last year. Lancashires SSA per secondary pupil is £133 less than it was in 1992–93.
I shall come to surplus places. Such reductions cannot be sustained without pain and disruption and, probably, without sackings.
Lancashire is one of the four biggest shires in the country in terms of population, but it is the only one of those four which does not benefit from the area cost adjustment. For example, in Essex, the SSA per secondary pupil is £2,755, plus a few pence. In Lancashire, the SSA per secondary pupil is £2,610. So a secondary pupil in Essex is deemed to be worth £145 more than a pupil in Lancashire.
Within that comparison, weighting for free school meals in Essex is £42.62, while in Lancashire it is £45.67. Weighting for the additional educational needs index in Essex is £353.13 and in Lancashire it is £428.04. But for the ACA, Lancashire would have an SSA per secondary pupil £75 higher than Essex. Similar comparisons can be made with the primary figures and between Lancashire and Kent and Lancashire and Hampshire, the other two counties of similar proportions.
It has always been recognised by all hon. Members that Londons needs are special and that the ACA should account for them, but it is unacceptable to those outside the south-east that the counties surrounding the capital should benefit equally from that adjustment. Twelve of the 13 counties with the highest SSA per pupil benefit from the area cost adjustment. In no way do I suggest that Kent, Essex and Hampshire should have their funding cut, but how on earth can counties outside the south-east provide the same service to pupils and achieve the same results in league tables, across the board, with such resource differentials? I am astonished that more Conservatives who represent constituencies in the midlands, the north of England and the far west are not up in arms regularly about it.
The result for Lancashire of all the proposals is a 5.5 per cent. cut in school budgets. The blow falls especially heavily on those schools with a settled and stable work force where teachers are at the top of their scales. Visiting St. Thomas the Martyr primary school in Up Holland in my constituency last week, a first-class school with an excellent reputation, I encountered just such a school. It will have to lose the equivalent of 1.5 staff. A member of the staff told me bitterly:
We are an expensive staff so we have to be clobbered.
It seems that this time the Government cannot pass off the viciousness of their cuts by picking on a handful of LEAs that they most dislike to pour on them their vilification. Almost all local authorities and their citizens are up in arms. Even among those lobbying the House on Tuesday last week, I came across a large contingent from Buckinghamshire, the last of the Tory shires.
Moreover, parents and governors know where the blame lies. I have had hundreds of letters, as I assume have all hon. Members, but not one of them blames a local education authority. Some of them, I have to say, blame me because I have not stopped the Government. They think that I can do that. Indeed, the letters have included all sorts of suggestions, from talking nicely to the Prime Minister, who will obviously understand and change his mind, to knee-capping various members of the Cabinet. Gently, I have to tell the parents and governors that neither method is likely to work.
Many desperate myths are being perpetrated to justify what the Government are doing. In some parts of Lancashire, the Tories are encouraging schools and governors to go for grant-maintained status so that they can secure additional funding to get round the cuts. That is an absolute fabrication. Grant-maintained status can do nothing for those schools about the cuts that the Government are now instituting, however legitimate the discussions. The funding formula will still apply.
No, I shall not give way to the hon. Member, who has flitted in and out of the debate like Marleys ghost and expects to intervene all the time.
We are told that the Government have increased spending on Lancashire education by 1.4 per cent., but they have also told Lancashire that it cannot increase spending by more than 0.5 per cent. The education share of that increase is £2.7 million, but an increase of more than £30 million is needed to meet existing commitments—for a standstill budget. That £2.7 million would not even cover the increased number of pupils coming on stream in 1995–96: an increase of 1.5 per cent.
The Governments extra funding of 1.4 per cent., in itself only a tiny part of what is needed, must be put alongside the 0.5 per cent. limit on spending. So, 1.1 per cent. may be used only to reduce the increase in the council tax; it cannot be used for schools. It has been said that Lancashire has reserves to deal with the problems. Some absurd figures have been put forward by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman). I notice that she did not refer to them today so she has probably now read the proper material. From £33 million in schools reserves, much is being spent now and most is committed to development projects.
The hon. Lady knows all about being misinformed, I am sure. The county balance stands at £9 million—the minimum that the county treasury will allow as an appropriate level, having regard to the councils legal duty to set a balanced budget.
Stories are also being put around about the amount being spent on central services. I do not have any time to go through all the figures—
Perhaps the hon. Member for Lancaster would like to take them up with me in detail, at some other time.
Central administration costs in Lancashire stand at 3 per cent.—right at the bottom section of the county league table. And if we look properly at how the funding is divided between teachers and administrators, we see that the ratio of staff providing direct services to schools and teachers is 1:74.7, not 1:17, as the hon. Member for Lancaster said—
I am grateful to be called in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was beginning to wonder whether there was something wrong with the annunciator, because there are only three Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber for what we are told is such an important debate. [HoN. MEMBERS: Where are they?] Ah, here comes another one—the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes).
The Government have been radical in their education policy, and I greatly welcome the diversity that has been introduced into the state education system. We have introduced the national curriculum, grant-maintained schools and local management of schools. The Labour party bitterly opposed each of those policies. Our radical approach to education is wholly to our credit. All that the Labour party has ever been is the mouthpiece of the National Union of Teachers and the education establishment, and Labour Members prove that time and time again.
Yesterday I asked the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), a question about spending in Derbyshire schools in 1994–95 prices. In 1978–79—I do not think that we were responsible for that budget—spending in primary schools was £1,064 per head; in 1993–94 it was £1,632 per head. That shows our true commitment to education, because over a long period there has been a substantial and consistent increase. That is most important.
I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister, however, that we have to find a way of getting the figures over to the public and explaining to them what is being spent on the education budget. The trouble is that the explanations are so confusing, what with standard spending assessments, general schools budgets, potential schools budgets and aggregated schools budgets. How on earth is anybody supposed to get to the bottom of what is going on in school funding with all those variations?
Derbyshire county council has excelled itself in efficiency. One would not often hear me praise that authority. But last week I asked the Secretary of State a question in which I pointed out that there were about 17,000 surplus places in Derbyshire. Unfortunately, I was wrong; there are more than 20,000. However, within 12 hours of my saying that the chairman of the education committee put out a press release showing where all the surplus places were in west Derbyshire. He did not cover the rest of the county, just west Derbyshire. I wrote back to him saying that his response had been very good and efficient, and that perhaps he could let me have the figures for the whole county within the next 48 hours. We are now 28 hours on, and I am still counting.
The facts about overall spending levels are important. At the end of the day it is difficult to work out the true facts and statistics. Derbyshire county council consistently talks about standard spending assessments and says that it would like the same SSA as Surrey. But when I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), he told me that Derbyshires SSA per head of population was £549, whereas in Surrey the figure is £524. If my county council really wants the same SSA as Surrey, it is calling for a reduction. We should judge the whole area of local authority spending rather than specific individual figures.
I note that these days Labour Front-Bench spokesmen pay great attention to the Library, regarding its staff as independent statisticians who will give us the true figures. Well, the Library has done some research for me, and yesterday we were told that in 1994–95 Derbyshire local education authority spent £720 per pupil in addition to the sums delegated to each school. That figure compares with £570 in Nottinghamshire and £550 in Staffordshire. In other words, Derbyshire spends an extra £150. If that money were going directly into schools, we would be talking not about reductions but about substantial increases.
Perhaps it is time that we thought about having a national funding formula, designated by the Government, for all schoolchildren throughout the country. As things are the Government get all the blame, but we do not have the responsibility. So let us take the responsibility and cut out the local education authorities. I believe that there is much inefficiency in LEAs, and it is difficult to get to the bottom of their budgets.
I also asked a parliamentary question about subsidies for school meals in Derbyshire. Today I received an answer from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State telling me that the income for Derbyshires school catering service was £9,051 million whereas expenditure on the service amounts to £22,959 million. There is therefore a subsidy, or a discrepancy—I do not know what the Labour party likes to call it—of £13,900 million on school meals. If the county wishes to pay such a subsidy, that is a policy decision that it is entitled to take. But the fact is that one cannot spend money in two places. The county cannot subsidise school meals and spend a huge amount on central administration, and then complain that it has not the money to delegate to schools. That is an important point, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to deal with some of those issues. I was encouraged by a story that I read on the front page of The Times Educational Supplement at the weekend suggesting that the Government might be considering a national funding formula. I do not expect my hon. Friend to comment on speculation in the papers, but may I tell him that if the Government are considering such a policy I should wholeheartedly endorse it? The sooner it is adopted the better.
I also have something to say about grant-maintained schools. I have a letter here from Michael Collier, the chief executive of the Funding Agency for Schools, and I am concerned about the way in which GM schools are notified of their budgets. The education budget is announced by the Chancellor in November, and local authorities hear about their budgets from the Secretary of State shortly after that.
However, in the letter Mr. Collier writes:
It is anticipated that the Final Annual Maintenance Grant will be issued in early May.
That is six weeks into the new financial year. I do not think that it is a fair way to treat large secondary schools with big budgets, or indeed primary schools, if they do not find out what their final budgets are to be until the year has started. That is an important problem which needs to be dealt with.
There is no question in my mind but that local authorities could find the money for this years pay increases. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that although one can get away with a pay freeze for one or two years, it is not possible to do so beyond that point. I hope that when discussions take place on next years spending round that thought will be at the forefront.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) said that he would like every school to become grant-maintained. I should like every school not only to become grant-maintained but to know, by means of a national funding formula, what its budget will be. At the moment there are too many dark holes through which money can be filtered away by local education authorities, and even some grant-maintained schools do not get the right amounts of money. I believe that we as a party and as a Government have a good reputation in education. We have changed the whole education system by diversifying and providing choice in the state system, and that is something to which the Labour party is totally opposed. It wants to bring everyone down to the same level, but we want to allow people to excel in state education—
One argument that the hon. Gentleman used—it has also been used by the Prime Minister and by other Conservative Members—was to compare the level of expenditure on education in 1978–79 with the current level of expenditure. That is a considerable period, and an analysis of what has happened within education cannot just be made with such a broad-brush approach. Some consideration must be given to what has happened in the past five years—particularly in Derbyshire—as that would show a different pattern.
The hon. Member for West Derbyshire stressed various issues such as surplus places. One of his solutions to the current crisis in Derbyshire is school closures and amalgamations, which he believes would solve a great problem within the vast rural areas of west Derbyshire. The hon. Gentleman also wishes to cut out the role of the local education authority. Unfortunately, the role of the LEA has just about been cut out altogether by the present financial arrangements. Because of the Governments policy, LEAs have virtually no options as to the policies that they can adopt. I assume that that call by the hon. Gentleman is a reflection of his lack of success in trying to get rid of Derbyshire county council and follows the arguments about boundary changes that he has been notably unsuccessful in pursuing.
Another matter referred to by the hon. Gentleman was price increases for school meals, but I suspect that he really means cutting out the school meals provision. Following assault upon assault by the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members from the county, Derbyshire increased the price of school meals. Following that decision, the take-up of school meals was not what it had been. To argue that school meals should not be a part of education provision seems to me to be entirely inadequate, so we can dismiss the arguments of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire.
Before the hon. Gentleman incensed me, I had initially planned to apologise to the House for not being in the Chamber for the entire debate. This was because of the subject matter that we are discussing today. There has been a mass lobby from Derbyshire at the House of Commons, which has included teachers, pupils, parents and governors.
Those people are in school on many occasions. They are concerned about the major problems and they are here to represent their views. They have important points to make to which the Minister—instead of lecturing them—should listen. Many petitions and letters were presented to me concerning north-east Derbyshire, and other activities took place. The number who came here today—a limited number compared with the numbers who are incensed by what is taking place—presented their petitions, which will see the light of day in the House quite soon.
The Governments policy is to divide and rule, and they hope that a squabble will take place in areas such as Derbyshire about who gets what. Our policy is to unite and fight, and that is seen as important by some angry teachers, pupils, parents and governors. Thanks to Government policy, those governors have begun to understand the financing arrangements in schools. Local management of schools has turned governors and head teachers into accountants so that those in charge are no longer bemused by some of the arrangements, and they have begun to understand the problems.
In 1988, I asked the then Prime Minister—now Lady Thatcher—to compliment Derbyshire county council on its teacher-pupil ratio. Derbyshire had the best ratio in special education and in secondary education, and in primary education it was second to Nottinghamshire. Since then, we have had cuts in real terms in the budgets of £152 million. Some £54 million of that has been in education, with £28 million being cut this year.
Those figures tie in with the development of changes in the structure of local government finance following the legislation which introduced the poll tax. Although the poll tax has changed into the council tax, the structure of the business rate and other arrangements which were determined then and the technique for the standard spending assessment—which gets bashed about in this House considerably and correctly—came within that area. Compared with Hertfordshire, Derbyshire is £90 million behind the level it had at that time; its SSA initially was very similar to that of Hertfordshire.
When addressing the governors at Holmgate school in Clay Cross, I attempted to explain the methodology of the SSA. One teacher said that he never knew that there was a formula for the SSA, and that he assumed that things were so bad in Derbyshire that the figures were just plucked out of the air. There has to be a formula as far as the law is concerned, but it is a fiddled formula.
The education spend this year is down in real terms, and the maldistribution which occurs within that is more serious. The hon. Member for West Derbyshire may have picked up some points about that maldistribution, as he has criticised the area cost adjustment in the House in the past.
Yesterday, I asked the current Prime Minister about the situation, but I could no longer ask him to compliment Derbyshire on its student-teacher ratio. I had to ask him how he could expect teachers not to be sacked and classes not to be increased in size following the cuts. I asked whether he agreed that education generally could be destroyed because the very fabric of our schools is facing problems. There was no answer. He simply said what the hon. Member for West Derbyshire said in his speech, which was that we should compare 1978–79 expenditure with current expenditure. The Tories think that that is the answer to every problem in the universe and that we need think about nothing else. But there are many other things to think about.
Unfortunately, my time has nearly run out. In the remaining minutes, I should like to mention a letter from the head of governors at Grassmoor primary school, in which he asked if the Secretary of State for Education would come to Grassmoor school and let the governors, parents and others explain their case—
I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and other hon. Members will forgive me if I do not necessarily follow them down the same route. I would dearly love to have time to debate choice, rising standards and the grant-maintained status system—I have listened with great interest to speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin)—but, like other hon. Members, I shall concentrate specifically on issues that affect my county of Wiltshire.
I listened carefully to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) who, sadly, is no longer in his place. He commented at length on the scare stories and problems that had arisen in his constituency and in Devon as a whole as a result of activities by Liberal Democrats locally. I readily acknowledge the presence of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) throughout this debate, but it is instructive that, although massive petitions have been organised by Liberal Democrats in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and throughout the west country, hon. Members who represent those counties have been ignominious by their absence tonight.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) says, they cannot all be in Bosnia at the same time.
When the funding settlement was first announced in Wiltshire, we faced no problems. Indeed, an opposition spokesman on Wiltshire county council said that there were no scare stories or talk of sacking teachers in Wiltshire, and that we faced no problems. Yet on 15 February this year, in an extraordinary letter which the chief education officer was mandated to send to all chairmen of governors by the Labour and Liberal Democrat ruling group on the council, he urged all chairmen of governors to write to the Chancellor asking for the teachers pay increase to be funded in full.
The hon. Gentleman says, Quite right. I shall explain how wrong and misguided he is.
Sadly, many governors have been hoodwinked and scared by the LEA into writing that letter. They have been led to believe that education funding in Wiltshire is not sufficient, whereas nothing could be further from the case. The chief education officer acknowledges in his letter:
The budgetary prospects in Wiltshire are better than in many other LEAs, due to the Councils readiness to put front-line services first. The budget will meet the costs of increased numbers.
It is certainly true that the budget and the grant handed down by central Government will meet the increased numbers of pupils in schools but, sadly, it has nothing to do with the local councils good housekeeping.
Pupil numbers in Wiltshire have risen more quickly than nationally. The upshot is that Wiltshire pupils now make up a larger proportion of the national pupil total, so Wiltshire gets a larger share of national funding. As a result, the education SSA for 1995–96 in Wiltshire will be £188.56 million, a 2.7 per cent. increase, against a national average of just 1.2 per cent., so the Government have fully funded the rise in pupil numbers in Wiltshire.
The letter goes on to tackle the problem of teachers pay and to explain the LEAs position. Of the 2.7 per cent. increase agreed nationally, it says that the budget can cope with funding 2 per cent. and asks schools to find the remaining 0.7 per cent. Even on that, it is not strictly accurate.
At primary level, all but 0.35 per cent. of the settlement has been funded, yet some primary school governors are still writing to me in the expectation that they will be 0.7 per cent. short. That shortfall represents just 0.2 per cent. of the total primary school budget in Wiltshire, a global figure of just £150,000, which the county council has the nerve to say it cannot find. At secondary level, 0.7 per cent. is not fully funded by the county council. That represents 0.45 per cent. of the total budget.
My hon. Friends who represent Wiltshire and I were not surprised that county councillors initial reaction was to say, without daring to blush, that that was all they could fund and that, if teachers were to be sacked, it was the Governments fault. I put it on the record that the Conservative group on the council voted against sending that letter to the chairmen of governors.
Let us examine a little more closely the expenditure of the local education authority and of Wiltshire county council as a whole—expenditure which the LEA has conveniently ignored or glossed over. I am afraid to say that Wiltshire has done all too little to reduce central administration costs.
Why is it that, in neighbouring Dorset and nearby Hampshire, 4.5 per cent. of the total school budget is spent on administration? I understand that, in Lancashire—the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) has now left the Chamber—it is just 1.7 per cent., yet Wiltshire still spends 5.2 per cent. of its total budget on administration. That may sound a small percentage difference, but it is a huge sum when taken out of an approved budget of £201 million.
Let us look, too, at how successful Wiltshire is at delegating its budget to schools under LMS. My hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire mentioned the potential schools budget, a figure that represents the LEAs total planned expenditure in respect of schools operating under local management, less the authoritys planned central expenditure on items that are statutorily excluded.
In 1994–95, Wiltshire, like other counties, excluded the normal sums for capital expenditure for school transport, school meals and other items. Yet last year, Wiltshire delegated less of its potential schools budget to schools than it had the year before. In 1993–94, Wiltshire held back 12.8 per cent. of its budget for its own use, yet in 1994–95, that figure rose to 14 per cent., an unexplained increase of 1.2 per cent. That means that, across the board, schools in the county had 1.2 per cent. less to spend last year than they had the year before.
I am sorry to say that those figures make Wiltshire one of the worst performing counties in the country when it comes to delegating its budget to schools. It is often said that the success of LMS has made opting out unnecessary. Those figures show just how much council schools are at the mercy of local politicians, who, as in the case of Wiltshire, have chosen to put the delegation process into reverse. Grant-maintained status gives the schools control over their budget as of right, not out of grace and favour and at the whim of local councilors.
Wiltshire county council has other so-called crucial spending plans in its budget this year. It has decided to continue with the employment of an environmental co-ordinator, plus support staff, and a crime co-ordinator, plus his support staff. Most outrageous of all, it continues to support neighbouring Somerset county councils legal quest to ban hunting on council land. Despite the legal decision of the Court of Appeal just two weeks ago, Wiltshire continues to fund Somersets legal campaign. Just yesterday, it voted through an extra £13,500 to take on a survey to be run by the agricultural college at Cirencester to prove that hunting damages the environment.
Now is not the time to debate the merits or otherwise of hunting, and I have no interest in doing so. But surely childrens education comes first. Those figures must rise from the £50,000 that has already been spent towards £100,000. I remind hon. Members that, just a few moments ago, I pointed out that the shortfall in funding the teachers pay rise in primary education in Wiltshire is just £150,000, yet it seems to be more important to those councillors to spend money on banning hunting in neighbouring Somerset—not even in their own county—than on providing teachers in Wiltshires primary schools.
Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors on Wiltshire county council are shamelessly playing party politics with childrens education. They have jumped on a national bandwagon of protest when no such bandwagon need exist in Wiltshire, because no such problems exist. Local opposition spokesmen on the council admitted as much when the grant settlement was first announced.
The letter from the chief education officer to the chairmen of governors in schools is a shameful attempt to scare them and bully the Government. I pay tribute to the hundreds of governors in Wiltshire who give of their time so generously, and to the thousands of teachers who do such invaluable work in our schools. I appeal to them not to be taken in by what has been said by the local politicians. I appeal to them to ask those local politicians searching questions along the lines that I have tried to lay out today.
My message to Wiltshire county council would be to find the money, fund the pay increase in full and put childrens education at the top of its agenda, and not relegate it below some of its little pet projects.
The Minister will be glad to hear that they were here on an educational visit, and I hope that Hansard will note that the Minister objects to the fact that they were here. For the Ministers information, the guide who took them round commended them on their knowledge of history. Like many other hon. Members whose constituents have had school trips here, I am sure that it is a valuable learning exercise.
It is deeply disappointing that the Minister does not appear to agree that visits by schoolchildren are to their benefit. I believe they are, and it is deeply disappointing that the Minister who sits there on the Government Bench shakes his head, disapproving of that visit. I shall ensure that those schoolchildren and their parents are made fully aware of the way in which that Conservative Minister says that they are too young to benefit from such a visit.
The key is that all political parties should broadly agree that education is about raising standards and improving quality. I think that all hon. Members will agree that we must seek to do that. We disagree, because the Government do it on the basis of dogma and the introduction of market forces because they believe that that is the politically correct thing to do, while we, on the Opposition side of the Chamber, believe that the market has no part to play in education provision.
We believe that the market is about profit and loss, gainers and losers. It is our opinion that any philosophy of education based on the opinion that some of our children must be losers so that others can be gainers is unacceptable. We need an education service that meets the needs and demands of all our children.
We arranged the debate today—
As the Opposition, we have used one of our supply days.
We arranged the debate because it is our opinion that the policies being pursued by the Government have failed, and will continue to fail, the schoolchildren of our country.
We need only read the official reports from the Office of Standards in Education to realise—those reports show it clearly—that about one third of our schoolchildren are being failed by the system. They receive a substandard education. That is unacceptable. We need policies that will ensure that that 33 per cent. of schoolchildren receive the education they need and deserve.
The Government amendment talks about giving parents more choice. I remind the Minister of the comments he made in Committee during the passage of the Education Act 1993, when he accepted, and said very clearly, that the Government were not offering choice to parents. Those were the Ministers words—that the Government could not offer choice to parents. All they could do was allow parents to express a preference. That is all the Government are doing—allowing a preference to be expressed. Parents cannot choose the school to which they will send their children—they can only express a preference.
However, the Minister, the Government and the Conservative party, by talking about choice, have raised parental expectations. It should be no surprise that, in the past three years alone, the number of parents appealing against not obtaining a place at the school of their choice for their child has more than doubled. Those are the Governments own figures.
Spending is at the heart of the debate. The settlement for schools takes no account of the extra 116,000 pupils who will be in the school system from September 1995. It takes no account of the additional financial burdens of the introduction of the new code of practice for those children with special educational needs, and no account of the additional demands of-the national curriculum. The Government introduce all those policies, but choose to ignore them when allocating resources.
The way in which the Government have dealt with this years teachers pay award has highlighted, not just for politicians but for parents and governors, the way in which the Government are treating the funding of our education system. The current Secretary of State for Education has failed to deliver for our children, their parents and school governors.
The last time there was difficulty in funding a settlement for teachers, the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), rustled up an extra £67 million from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to help fund the teachers pay settlement. He did what he could for the education service, as recently as three years ago. The present Secretary of State has failed.
What about the standard spending assessments? We heard from the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) about the problems being caused to the education budget in Derbyshire. The hon. Gentleman should have found out what Derbyshire is spending on education this year and compared it with the standard spending assessment given next year for education in Derbyshire. If he had compared the two figures—as he is a Conservative Member, I can understand why he did not do so—he would have discovered that this year Derbyshire is spending £333 million on education, but next year it has a standard spending assessment for education of £303 million. There is a gap of £30 million.
There is a warning here. Conservative Members speak about a national funding system for education. If we had that, based on the criteria of the Government, £30 million would be cut from Derbyshires education budget. Nationally, it would mean a cut of £486 million.
We are aware that standards are under attack throughout the system. In our primary schools, more than 1 million children—one in four—are in classes of more than 30. The Office of Standards in Education has been told that there must be a primary inspection every four years for every school, but, at the present rate of performance, it will take eight years, because the Government have not provided the resources to allow the job to be done properly, and indeed intend to cut the budget for future years.
We have a Department for Education that knows a great deal about waste. The failed national curriculum cost tens of millions of pounds. The Minister who sits there on the Treasury Bench has an office in a building the rent of which is £1 million—and for the information of those schools that worry about capital, not £1 million a year, but more than £1 million a month rent is being paid for the Departments offices in Sanctuary buildings. That is where the real waste exists.
What about the example of the proposed city technology college in Brighton? The Government paid £2.3 million for the site. Two years later, when there were no takers, it had to be sold for £1.5 million—money wasted.
We may have a new Secretary of State with warm words and sweet smiles, but we have a harsh settlement for local government. Our children will suffer school budget cuts this year so that taxes can be cut next year. Our children should not be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.
I am delighted to be able to contribute to the debate this evening, and I am equally delighted to be able to answer the question posed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). He asked where Conservative Members were educated, and what their hopes were for their children. He will know that I was educated in Sheffield in the state system from primary to tertiary level, and I hope that my children will enjoy the same benefits as I have gained from a state education.
I am also delighted to take part in a debate in which there is so much underlying accord between the two parties. In the past few weeks, Opposition Members have made a mad scramble to nick our clothing on many key issues. It must have been with difficulty and a sense of embarrassment that the hon. Member for Brightside has been forced to make U-turns on the subject of league tables, opt-out schools, charitable status and a number of other very important issues. I hazard a guess that there are more U-turns to come—and not only in education.
I recognise that there have been fewer emotive debates in the House this year. However, in the county of Cornwall I have rarely witnessed a debate in which so much mischief and emotional blackmail has been peddled by so few to so many. I hazard a guess that, if the Liberal Democrat-controlled county council had a remit for health, it would have trooped out nurses rather than teachers in this ritual dance.
The Liberal Democrats have cynically used education in the county in an attempt to derive some rather shabby political advantages. They circulated a bogus and misleading petition in that county; my hon. Friends the Members for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) and I have written to the leader of the Liberal Democrats asking him to withdraw it. The Liberal Democrats have made a tremendous amount of mischief in Cornwall, but not one Liberal Democrat representative from that county has set foot in the Chamber all afternoon. I think that that shows in true relief the crocodile tears that they have shed over the issue.
The bogus petition circulated in Cornwall simply said that children in that county were worth £100 less than children in any other part of the country. That is a shabby statistical sleight of hand. The Liberals did not take into account the area cost adjustment and other key components.
Will the Liberal Democrats in Cornwall tell the children on the Isles of Scilly, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, that the benefits of extra considerations will be removed? I have not noticed a huge campaign being carried out in the constituencies of Bermondsey, Christchurch and Newbury in favour of the removal of the area cost adjustment. There is total silence about that issue.
Cornwall sits mid-table as far as expenditure is concerned. In the past 20 years, spending on secondary and primary education has risen, and it has increased most profoundly in the past 10 years. At the annual general meeting in his constituency a few weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives described the whole argument being pushed by Liberal Democrat councillors and Members of Parliament in that county as lies, damned lies and Liberal Democrat statistics. We must punch a hole in those statistics, because they do not hold water.
There is no doubt that this local government settlement is tight; it would be naive and coy of me to pretend otherwise. However, I ask the county to look very carefully at its reserves; at the amount of money that is held back centrally for administrative services and for surplus places. It should examine its unspent balances and look very carefully at reordering its priorities.
If the county sacks teachers—which is what it is threatening to do—let us make it clear that that is the priority of a Liberal Democrat-controlled county. It is not the priority of the Conservative grouping, the Labour grouping or the independent grouping in that county.
The Liberal Democrats are finding life a little difficult. They promised the earth in the build-up to the county elections a year ago, and they are now finding that the reality of democratic control means that occasionally they must make difficult decisions. As I am told time and again by the council that reserves are sacrosanct and should not be touched, I will leave the House with an interesting observation about my previous political year.
In the parlance of Match of the Day pundits, it was a year of two halves. I spent the first half of my year fighting with county hall and imploring the council to dip into its reserves in order to reinstate two primary schools in my constituency—Trevithick school in Camborne and Stithians school in the village where I live—which had been cynically removed and placed down the list of the councils priorities for capital expenditure. When I approached county hall about the matter, I was told that under no circumstance could I push the council any further on the question of dipping into its reserves.
I spent the second half of my political year fighting county hall about the imposition of four new age traveller transit sites in my constituency. Anyone who is familiar with the constituency of Falmouth and Camborne will know that we need four new age traveller transit sites like we need a hole in the head.
County hall said that, if I could not support its bid to Government for funding—which was to be repealed three weeks later—it would dip into county reserves. Education priorities in the county of Cornwall were demonstrated by the refusal of Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament to oppose the establishment of those sites, and by the councillors who sat in the background and hoped that the whole issue would go away.
We ask a great deal of teachers in this country and in my constituency. They are committed, loyal and professional. I was educated in the state system. I attended Tapton school in Sheffield, Abbeydale Grange and Loughborough university. They were two very good schools, and I was delighted to attend them, but we are now asking more from our teachers than we have ever asked before in exactly the same way as we are asking more of our police service.
Teachers in my constituency, and the length and breadth of the country, are dealing with children with fewer social skills than ever. I meet head teachers regularly at my parliamentary education forum, and they say exactly the same. There was a time when that was at least compensated for to some extent by childrens television. The waterfall of rubbish that passes for childrens television is a sadness, and on Saturday mornings is little more than an orgy of commercial interests pushing videos and CDs—and it is not helping.
We have to kill the myth that what happened in the 1980s was a continual starvation of education funding in Britain. In 1980, we were spending 20.4 per cent. of our national income on welfare, including education. By 1990, we were spending 21.4 per cent. of a significantly larger national income.
In the county of Cornwall, and on national indices, there is no getting away from the fact that education has been well funded by the Government. Teachers pay has risen by 55 or 60 per cent. in real terms, and there have been increases of 35 per cent. on school equipment and books, and more than 50 per cent. in real terms on gross expenditure in education.
It is nonsense to pretend that those are the statistics of starvation and deprivation. They are not. We have a great duty to skill properly and make sure that—
I am also delighted to take part in the debate, as I took part in the earlier one when the local government settlement was first announced. I offer the House my apologies for not being present when the debate began, but I was in a Select Committee until about 6.30 pm.
In the debate on the local government settlement, I drew the Ministers attention to the spending pressures that have been imposed upon my local authority, Barnsley. In the past four years, Barnsley has had to absorb enormous pressures. For example, between 1990 and 1994, the number of children on free school meals has increased to 9,591. That represents a 58 per cent. increase. The number of children receiving a grant for clothing has increased by 54 per cent. and there has been an enormous increase in the number of children requiring special needs education. The figure has increased from 1.3 to 3.1 per cent. of pupils in Barnsley. That has meant that the authority has had to find about another £6 million to meet those increased pressures.
When we discussed those issues in the last debate, the Minister looked askance when I drew attention to the facts about Barnsley and when I intervened on his speech, he said that I was trying to square the circle. The circle is that Barnsley has not been able to use the resources available for its children because of the cuts and their impact.
The schools maintenance programme is now estimated to be more than £12 million. That is what is required to bring schools up to standard. Some schools have bucket monitors. When it rains, children are sent out with buckets to catch the water because the buildings are in a such a bad state. The impact of the cuts will be enormous.
According to the report of the education department in Barnsley, another £3.7 million will be required this year to meet the 1994–95 standards. The Minister will be aware that our SSA has been considerably lower, but the authority is spending its full SSA on education.
If the Minister will pay attention, I shall point out the real impact of the cuts on Barnsley. The report prepared by the education department draws attention to the increased class sizes in our secondary schools. It points out that the class sizes for science and technology are likely to be in excess of 28. When one bears in mind the real need to increase the skills in that age group, particularly in terms of GNVQs, it is clear that larger class sizes will not be able to provide that little extra to enable pupils to reach the required standard. That will impact on opportunities in further education.
There will be an increase in the number of classes that will be taught by non-specialist teachers and that again will mean a lowering of standards. If non-specialist teachers are used in Barnsley, the standards there will be lower than those in areas that can afford qualified teachers. There will be large reductions in capitation. It is estimated, for instance, that in some secondary schools the capitation fee will be as low as £10 per pupil. The money restriction will mean a restriction on examination entries as well: children will be denied the opportunity to extend their education by taking examinations.
There will be no provision for pupils with additional needs. Non-statemented pupils will not receive the essential support that they require. I am pleased to see that the Secretary of State is present: she probably is not aware of the impact that the cuts will have in Barnsley. Class sizes will increase in secondary schools, particularly in science and technology. As I have said, that will have a huge impact on general national vocational qualifications. Children need to specialise if they are to use their skills in jobs.
Class sizes will also increase in primary schools. The Secretary of State may not know that it is estimated that some class sizes in Barnsley may reach more than 40. Primary education is particularly important to children in their formative years, but many children in Barnsley will not have the opportunities that are available to children in other areas.
There will also be an increase in mixed-age groups. Many schools will have three age groups in one class, and there will be cross-phasing: for instance, key stages 1 and 2 will be in the same class. There will be no provision for pupils with additional needs, in both primary and secondary schools.
All that we know about the world before us tells us that our investment in education will be crucial for the personal development of our children, for the quality of our democracy and society—if we fail to educate children adequately, the public expenditure bill will ineluctably come back on the social security and police budgets—and for our capacity to compete in an ever-more demanding global economy in which knowledge-based activities and intellectual skills are increasingly at a premium.
I note with satisfaction that the Government have indeed invested in education. They have increased spending in real terms by 50 per cent. per pupil. I note the enormous increase in the numbers who stay at school after the age of 16, the exciting developments in further education and the huge rise in participation in higher education. I share the Governments pride in that. Now, however, my right hon. and hon. Friends seem to be withdrawing from that commitment. They are reducing their planned expenditure on education, and just at a time when the fiscal imperative for public expenditure restraint has abated. In the coming year, the public sector borrowing requirement will be 3 per cent. of gross domestic product; it is heading towards 0.75 per cent. of GDP in 1997–98. We can afford to invest properly in education; indeed, we cannot afford not to.
Of course it is not easy to balance growth in investment with tight cost control, but that is the task of responsible central Government and local authorities. My right hon. and hon. Friends argue that it will be possible, by dint of increased efficiency, to maintain education provision within budgets that increase below inflation. The scope for efficiency gains varies markedly from authority to authority. Every LEA, like every large organisation, is capable of some efficiency improvements. At one time, I was sharply critical of Warwickshire, considering that there was scope for savings on marginal expenditure and improved efficiency. Then, for two years in succession, my county was capped, and in the three subsequent years the Government permitted the county to increase expenditure only below inflation.
The squeeze on Warwickshire has been tight and its administrative expenditure is below the county average. Any economies that remain within Warwickshires power would not be commensurate with the savings that the Government require. The effect on the county of capping has been the more severe because Warwickshires SSA is plainly wrong. The theory is that SSAs underpinned by central Government grant provide for parity of provision throughout the country. As it is, Warwickshire is spending 9 per cent. above the SSA and 3.6 per cent. per head below the counties average, yet one third of its primary schools have classes of more than 30 pupils and one tenth have classes of more than 35. The county effectively has no discretionary awards and its youth service has been cut by half.
The conclusion must be that the Government have miscalculated Warwickshires SSA. The Treasury and the Department of the Environment should acknowledge that, whatever the theory, in practice SSAs throw up anomalies and they should act to correct the systems deficiencies and injustices.
For five years, Members of Parliament representing Warwickshire constituencies and representatives of all parties on the county council have been waiting on Ministers to explain the deficiencies of our SSAs and to seek help. Always we are told that the matter will be looked at for next year and that Warwickshire should sort things out within the Association of County Councils. When next year comes, there is no significant relief and we know that other counties in the ACC will not come to Warwickshires rescue because that would be to their detriment.
The Governments present requirements are impossible for Warwickshire to meet without significantly damaging education provision. The 1.2 per cent. increase in the SSA is academic because, under the cap, the county is permitted to increase spending by only half of 1 per cent.—yet the Government require teachers pay to be increased by 2.7 per cent. We can square that circle only by reducing the number of teaching posts and increasing class sizes.
Of course it is right to improve teachers pay. On 24 November 1990—a pregnant period in the history of the Conservative party—my right hon. Friend who became Prime Minister was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying:
We need to give teachers back the status they once had and that will mean more money for the right teachers delivering the right service.
Teachers want to deliver the right service.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows the difficulties in Warwickshire because we have had a series of meetings with her. She knows that our concern is shared across the political parties. In her internal letter, leaked in The Times Educational Supplement, she warned of the damage and of what could happen to the atmosphere in the education service that my right hon. Friend, through her commitment to the nations children and to teachers, has done so much to improve.
Having studied Warwickshires school budgets, I know how well founded were my right hon. Friends warnings. The budget for Stratford high school for the forthcoming year is down £310,000. That secondary school will have classes of more than 30 pupils, in classrooms that were never designed for such numbers. Eight teachers will lose their jobs and the school has averted the loss of another eight posts only by using reserves accumulated to improve the computer network to meet the requirements of the national curriculum. The school is even more deeply worried about the consequences of the following year, because it cannot use those one-off reserves twice.
In Brailes junior and infant school, the number of full-time teachers will be reduced from five to four and classes will increase to 34 pupils. Shipston junior and infant school loses £43,000 from its budget, and Bidford junior and infant school loses £35,000. Bidford and Studley junior schools will have their special educational needs provision cut. The Minister of State has done a marvellous job improving the policy framework for special needs, but we shall not realise his aspirations if we do not have the requisite resources.
Warwickshire school governors are public-spirited people, and we have done much to increase their responsibilities. They are now faced with a cruel dilemma. Twenty Warwickshire school governing bodies have decided to return the responsibility for drawing up school budgets to the local education authority. I cannot criticise them for doing so.
At Shottery junior and infant school, there are plans to raise money on appeal, to the tune of £50 per family. Those families have paid their taxes. They would be happy to pay more to ensure adequate education provision. They would be happy to pay an extra 23p a week on their council tax. That would raise £2 million, which would be enough to save the jobs of 100 teachers in the county—but the Government have imposed a cap on the county that prevents them from doing so.
If these limitations on education spending are designed to clear the way for tax cuts later this year, I repudiate that policy. It would be entirely wrong to cut taxes on the affluent while the needs of our public services are not properly met. We are not highly taxed in this country. Historically, people have voted Conservative because they have seen the Conservative party as the party of relatively low taxation. That remains true. A Labour Government would always intervene more and spend more; taxes will always be lower under a Conservative Government than under a Labour Government.
More importantly, people have voted Conservative because they have seen us as more competent to manage the economy and they have accepted our genuine commitment to public services. My right hon. Friends have done much to retrieve the Conservative partys reputation for good economic management. Evidence of that is all around us in the economic recovery. By that same token, we can afford to improve public services. We shall not be forgiven if we neglect the trust that people have placed in us to provide properly for the public services.
Unless my hon. Friend can offer me some immediate relief for Warwickshire schools this evening, I would be failing my constituents if I were to support the Government in the Division Lobby.
I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), but I begin mine by complimenting my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on his exposition of the educational failings of the Government—ably supported as he was by many Opposition Members. It is pity that we did not hear the same reasoned intellectual defence of the Governments position by Conservative Members. Instead they trotted out the same old myths—and Trot will be a word to which I will return when I deal with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) about Stalinism in Kent.
The Government amendment
welcomes the substantial increase in the real level of education spending since 1979; notes that in a tough settlement overall local authorities will still be able to spend more next year than in 1994–95.
Parents, governors, teachers and councillors throughout the land know that that claim is nonsense. The Governments capping limits restrict most LEAs to a cash increase of 0.5 per cent., out of which they must pay for the teachers pay rise of 2.7 per cent.—not to mention adult education, nursery education, increasing pupil numbers and special educational needs.
In real terms LEAs are having to cut an enormous £390 million from their education budgets, with the English shires bearing the brunt. There appears to be a consensus among all interested parties—including many Tory Ministers, Back Benchers and local councillors—that the current system of education funding does not work. There is widespread agreement that the funding awarded by the DFE for the 1995–96 financial year is inadequate and reveals a stark lack of understanding of the limitations under which schools are already struggling to function. Many simply will not be able to provide the amount and standard of service that is necessary without dramatic changes to schools make-up. There are countless nationwide illustrations of that.
Schools are often obliged to fund part or all of the teachers pay increase by adding tens of thousands of pounds to their payrolls. They are having to reduce numbers of teaching and support staff by means of pushing experienced teachers towards early retirement, voluntary redundancy, non-renewal of temporary contracts, or of taking on newly qualified, inexperienced teachers, rather than the more mature pedagogues who cost more on the salary scale. They are having to make further cuts in spending on books, equipment and maintenance. Faced with the possibility of staff cuts, schools are having to increase class sizes, resulting in less quality time teaching and more mixed-age and ability groups.
The Government show either culpable ignorance or malicious contempt for education, with their failure to address the reality of education in the country today. As the Secondary Heads Association—a body that includes the headmasters conference among its members—put it, there are systematic problems. First, future spending is largely determined by historical levels of spending, and that leads to all sorts of anomalies. Secondly, there is no direct linkage between funding decisions and decisions regarding the type and amount of education provision that should be available. Thirdly, the data used to calculate budgets are far too removed from the actual costs.
If I may, I shall quote directly from the Conservative-dominated Education Select Committee, which warned two years ago:
The decision that whilst schools would be funded largely by reference to pupil numbers, the actual costs (including actual, rather than average salaries) which they incurred would be charged to their budgets. Whilst this is, on the surface, relatively simple and fair, schools which in the past had a relatively high proportion of experienced teachers at the top of the salary scale (and therefore higher costs) have lost money as a result of a switch to a system of resource allocation which assumes that all teachers cost the same amount. Many of those losing schools will have lost relatively small amounts, but anecdotal evidence has suggested that a significant minority of schools have sustained losses which can only be absorbed within a relatively small and inflexible budget by parting with senior teachers and replacing them with inexperienced teachers, or not replacing them at all.
What does that tell us about standards in our schools?
The hon. Member for Dartford made heavy going of his claim of increased or better standards from the Government. Let me give him a yardstick with which to test the standards that the Government have achieved over the past 16 years, noting that, within the age group 16 to 24, the education of a huge number of people has been determined by 16 years of Tory Government. In that age group, 750,000 young people are out of education, out of training, out of jobs, out of benefit and out of Government statistics. I am afraid that it is a distortion to look only towards one end of the scale in terms of the end product of the education system.
That has now come to pass with a vengeance. The examples of the losses to schools are many. I shall give the House just a few. The Secretary of States own authority—Norfolk—has suffered. Its education SSA for next year is £234.8 million. Last year, it spent £252.5 million. It has had a cut of £3.276 million. What that really means, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) said, is that cuts were made to discretionary awards, community education, adult education and school meals. Nottinghamshire, which houses the Chancellors constituency—we heard from the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) earlier—spent £378 million last year. But the pay increase will cost the authority nearly £6 million and there will be a shortfall of £2.5 million. If that does not mean cuts, I do not know what does.
Oxfordshire, where the previous Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) has his seat, is an excellent example of the duplicity of the Governments amendment. The frustration and anger of middle England has manifested itself there, as in Warwickshire, Shropshire and other shires not noted for their revolutionary tendencies. In Oxfordshire, one can quote Wesley Green middle school, on the now infamous Blackbird Leys estate, which is now £64,000 down on what it was spending three years ago, and it anticipates losing a further £40,000. Or Mr. Betteridge, a parent governor at Burford school, who said that schools now had to decide which law to break: whether to exceed their budgets or fail to deliver the national curriculum. A teacher at the
same school suggested that it would lose six posts. Judith Bennett, who chairs the governing body of Chalgrove primary school, said:
We are going to concentrate nine classes into eight. At the moment, they are low to mid-20s and this will now go to over 30.
The cuts to local authorities were so great that it moved a Tory councillor to prepare a confidential briefing paper to Oxfordshires Conservative Members of Parliament. He wrote:
It is clear that 1995–96 contains real problems and is going to be the most difficult budget the county has had to set,
with only two services, education and social services, costing enough to
bear the brunt of the necessary reductions … It seems certain that there will be reductions in school budgets, possibly of 3 to 4 per cent.
He said that primary schools would probably cope by reducing numbers of learning support staff and that the
secondary schools may have to reduce teaching numbers with an impact on non-contact time or slight increases in class size.
If Conservative Members are ignorant, it is culpable ignorance. There may be method in the Governments madness because in The Guardian of 7 February another Tory councillor stated:
The silver lining for the Tories is a possible resuscitation of the opt-out policy. Only one Oxfordshire school has gone grant-maintained. It is to be hoped that budget pressures will force more of them to realise they can kick away the crutches of the LEA and stand quite adequately on their own two feet.
A Berkshire head said:
If things get worse we would look at going for CTC status and opting out. It sends a shiver down my spine to be forced down this route.
The Prime Minister would deny that the cuts are real or politically motivated. He would certainly find it hard to convince Mr. Brian Brown, a head teacher in a primary school in the Prime Ministers constituency, who in his anger at the £20,000 worth of cuts that he has been forced to make, told The Daily Telegraph, which is not exactly a radical newspaper:
Mr. Major is not doing his job representing the interests of the people here.
Most of us do not think that he is doing the job of representing the interests of the country, and certainly not in terms of education. The House should note this in the light of his ignorant comment last week when he said that if any local authority was thinking of cutting teachers in the classroom, he would like to ask it what saving it had made in non-teaching aspects of education. Clearly, he has no understanding of how the school community functions on a day-to-day basis, nor of the increasing bureaucracy involved in running a school, much of which is due to Government changes.
I am sure that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State will again tell local education authorities to set sensible priorities. On 21 March the Prime Minister said that there were two administrators for every three teachers. That is utter nonsense and the right hon. Gentlemans assumption vanishes immediately under examination. [Interruption.] That is a credit to the education system that operated when I was at school. Left-wing educationists taught us to prepare adequately, a function in which the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) does not appear to be adequate.
About 65,000 non-manual staff are employed by local education authorities. Many of them are important front-line personnel on whom key services depend. They are educational psychologists, education welfare officers, inspectors and advisers, and youth and community workers. Only the residue can fairly be labelled as administrative staff, and they certainly form less than 5 per cent. of the total education complement.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside said, staff watch figures for local authority employment show that there are 404,000 teachers and 337,000 staff in England and Wales. The others category includes 162,000 manual workers such as cleaners, caretakers and ground maintenance workers. The Department for Educations evidence, which is quoted in the 1995 review body report, is that, of the balance, 109,000 are employed in schools in England on education support and administrative and clerical work.
Does the Prime Minister seriously suggest that school secretaries, dinner ladies, caretakers, psychologists, education welfare officers, advisers and youth workers should be sacked? The sensible citizen would hope not. The Secretary of State reinforced the cynical image of this tired, discredited Government when she wrote to Conservative Members urging them to question local authority spending on nursery education as schools face budget cuts. Margaret Lally, chair of the National Campaign for Nursery Education, said:
We have always doubted the Governments real commitment to increasing state nursery education. This just shows how little they have.
The National Governors Council agrees, given the Prime Ministers pledge to his party conference, to provide nursery education within the lifetime of this Parliament. [Interruption.]
I shall now deal with some of the earlier comments. I could not believe them and had to consider them at great length. The right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) made a big play about the assisted places scheme. I remind him of the review that he wrote about state and private education, and the value of the assisted places scheme. I am sure that he will take kindly to my quoting him directly:
Certainly ministers, including myself, have claimed in the annual debate on the scheme in Parliament that the sons and daughters of bus and lorry drivers, miners, butchers, recent immigrants and one-parent families, for example, have through the scheme received a first-class education … Even more significantly, 68 per cent of mothers and 51 per cent of fathers of such pupils attended either private or selective education.
I suspect, however, that the aspirant assisted-place parents with their educational backgrounds would not have sent their children to inner-city sink comprehensives … Thus if there is any damage it must be to the better … comprehensive schools.
I cannot think of anything that is more invidious and more designed to undermine the education provision of the vast majority of children.
The hon. Member for West Derbyshire said that he waited 28 hours for an answer from the chairman of the Derbyshire education committee. I have news for the hon. Gentleman. I managed to meet the chairman today. He was here taking part in a lobby with thousands of Derbyshire parents, teachers and pupils. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not go out and meet them today.
The hon. Member for Dartford talks about Stalinism. I do not know what he knows about that or about democratic centralism. I know a fair bit about both. Outside the Militant Tendency, I have never known of a better example of democratic centralism than the way in which the Conservative party conducts the countrys affairs.
When the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) wants to sing the praises of grant-maintained schools, I hope that he will consider the position of St. James school in Bolton, where the head teacher was sacked for corruption. One may say that that was the exception that proved the rule. I could not understand why the Grant Maintained Schools Foundation, which had a base in that school, could not, apparently, monitor what was going on there.
Education in Kent was raised by the hon. Members for Dartford and for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) in an intervention, as Hansard will show. Whenever I see the hon. Member for Dartford and his close friends and collaborators the Members for Gravesham and for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey)—who is off on an antipodean visit—I tend to think of the Bash Street Kids. I think of Plug, Danny and Smiffy in educational terms. In a kinder moment, I tend to think of the Three Stooges—Larry, Curly and Mo—except that they were amusing. There is nothing amusing about the attritional warfare that those hon. Gentlemen wage against education provision in Kent.
I shall provide Hansard with a translation if it needs it. The hon. Member for Dartford fails to point out that, in the 18 years before the new administration came into Kent, not one new nursery place was built in Kent. Eight new nursery units have been set up this year, including one in his constituency.
The hon. Gentleman failed to point out that the administration has given £750,000 to voluntary and independent sectors, that it has doubled the number of classroom assistants in infant classes or where there are children with special needs, and that it has reduced the number of children waiting for special needs assessments. It has also injected an extra £11.8 million for children with special educational needs by fully funding the code of practice. He also failed to point out that it has made good a shortfall of nearly £500,000 for section 11 funding which was caused by Home Office decisions and withdrawals, that it fully funded the teachers pay rise last year and that it is providing £6 million extra to take care of repairs in the county. The silence that greets these points is instructive.
I urge the House to vote for the Labour motion and to treat the Government amendment with the contempt that it deserves.
The few people who have witnessed the debate—sadly, there have been relatively few—would be forgiven for thinking that it has taken place under entirely false pretences. This is styled an Opposition day debate—a debate called by the Opposition—and one would therefore have assumed that the Opposition regarded the subject as being of passing importance. However, I have made a careful note of the numbers of Labour and Liberal Members present during this debate on what the Opposition claim is an important subject close to their hearts.
At 5.30 pm, there were four Labour Back Benchers and one Liberal Member in the Chamber. At 8.15 pm, there were two Labour Back Benchers and no Liberal Members at all. Even half an hour ago, there were as many as six Labour Members present and the same Liberal Member—the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)—who, I concede, has been here most of the day and who is still in his place.
The numbers that I have cited are bad enough but the depths of cynicism displayed by the Opposition are well illustrated by the briefing that has fallen into my hands. It is headed PLP Briefing by David Blunkett MP. I shall not weary the House by relating its irrelevances—
I shall read out part of it. The hon. Gentleman must be patient—I shall read his words to him. The last page of the briefing states:
We now have a major campaign running throughout the country with a petition available, leaflets prepared and education is a central part of our thrust for May 4.
So much for the alleged spontaneity of what is happening across the country. It is perfectly obvious that the protests that the Opposition claim are taking place are nothing more than a cynical and carefully orchestrated attempt to worry people unduly.
Regrettably, the debate has not, as one might have hoped, been about standards, achievement and opportunities in education. We would have welcomed such a debate. In reality, it has been about money. I shall dwell for a moment on money because a number of interesting facts have emerged.
For example, it has emerged that the total rates, community charge and council tax arrears run up by local authorities amounts to some £1.5 billion. In other words, authorities have failed to collect money that they should have collected, although some are at the same time complaining about not having enough money. That is bad enough, but the independent Audit Commission said that there are some £500 million worth of savings to be made through local authority efficiencies.
We have also heard that surplus school places could represent savings for local authorities of up to £250 million. Mention has been made of local education authority and school balances. The independent schoolteachers review body said that its pay award was affordable.
In her opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the Ofsted report. She quoted the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) as having said that the chief inspectors report was
about as unbiased as you can get.
She went on to point out that the same report said about education money:
In overall terms, the provision of resources is satisfactory.
All in all, the picture is one of many opportunities being available to the local authorities that care to use them and manage their affairs and choose their priorities properly. They can make available to themselves substantial sums of money to spend on education, if they so wish.
That is the key to this whole debate. If we then consider individual authorities, some very interesting facts emerge. I was told today that, apparently, there was some sort of protest emanating from Derbyshire. Labour Members could not make up their minds earlier about how many people were involved in that protest. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who has not been seen since and, certainly, has not been present throughout the debate, claimed that 5,000 people were involved. The hon. Member for Brightside thought that the figure was 3,000 and then said that, anyway, there were a few thousand involved.
We do not know how many people were involved in that protest, but what has emerged is that the people who were here from Derbyshire included teachers and, it is said, pupils. I have been told—I cannot believe that this is true—that the teachers were taking what in the trade is known as a Baker day, so that they could come to the House of Commons on a political protest. I will be making it my business to make further inquiries about that, because if teachers in Derbyshire or anywhere else are using a Baker day to be away from their classrooms for a political protest, I would want to know a lot more about it.
The situation is worse than that. If supply cover was having to be introduced in those teachers classrooms to continue the education of their pupils, I would like to know how Derbyshire could find the money for supply cover to cover a political protest at the same time as it is apparently complaining about a lack of money.
I would have thought that the House would regard it as a dereliction of duty if I did not make it my business to satisfy myself that taxpayers money, which is intended to be spent on education, was not being spent instead on political protest.
I do not honestly think that there can be anything further to that point of order. It is very clear. Every hon. Member is responsible for his own words in this Chamber. That is crystal clear.
I was going to point out that expenditure on education is of course a matter for local education authorities. That has emerged clearly from todays debate. What has been really important about today is the number of interesting examples that my hon. Friends have given of what their local education authorities have chosen as priorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), in a very telling intervention, pointed out that her local authority of Lancashire had increased its administrative staff over three or four years from 503 to 548. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) pointed out that Nottinghamshire had run up an overtime bill for its staff of £10 million and was carrying 20,000 surplus school places. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) pointed out that Ealing has some £17 million in its reserves.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) referred to 20,000 surplus school places in Derbyshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber), in an excellent speech, pointed out not only that his authority of Wiltshire was spending 5.2 per cent. of its expenditure on administration, but, unbelievably, that it was wasting valuable money, which could be going on education, on pursuing some sort of anti-hunting vendetta.
Such examples tell us clearly not only that the opportunities exist for local authorities to reorder their priorities and put more money into education, but that authorities such as those mentioned by my hon. Friends are wilfully refusing to order their spending priorities so as to put money into education. That is a condemnation of the kind that the debate has brought out clearly, but which Opposition Members have chosen to ignore completely.
What has emerged during the debate about Opposition policies? Predictably, the answer is almost nothing. Nothing has emerged about what the Opposition would do about education—although I must admit that the hon. Member for Bath has said that his party would put more money into education. However, on a platform that he shared with me recently—I am breaking no confidences because it was a public occasion—he said that the absolute priority for the Liberal Democrats was to put all the money into education for under-fives.
So the Liberal Democrats are not talking about funding the teachers pay increase, repairing crumbling school buildings or anything similar. I realise that education for the under-fives is where their priorities lie, but we should not let the debate pass imagining that they would put more money into the teachers pay award, which is the subject of the Opposition motion.
We listened in vain to hear what the Labour party would do about the education spending issues that Labour Members talk about. They talk about class sizes, arrears of building repairs and further and higher education expansion; occasionally they refer to student grants and loans; they have been known to refer to the reading recovery scheme. But they are not prepared or able to give any idea of whether they would fund even one of those areas. There is silence on that subject, and that is one of the most telling facts to emerge from the debate—the avoidance of any commitment by Opposition Members on what they would do to improve or even to change education spending. They are silent, and that fact should be well known.
Things get worse when Opposition Members start talking about standards and quality in education. As was pointed out forcefully by my right hon. Friends the Members for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) and for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), we know all too clearly that time and again when the Government have brought forward positive measures to improve education standards, the Labour party has systematically opposed them. Labour opposed testing pupils to establish their educational needs, and opposed the publication of school results, until—
Labour opposed that until the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) experienced a conversion. Now he tells us that not only does he welcome the publication of results—
No, I shall not.
As for the hon. Member for Brightside, he said recently about grant-maintained schools:
I am having no truck with middle-class, left-wing parents who preach one thing and send their children to another school outside the area.
I cannot imagine whom he was thinking of. And when he was challenged during the debate about his attitude to grant-maintained schools earlier in the debate he said something from a sedentary position, which I shall now have written into Hansard for him, because I made a note of what he said. It was, I have not changed my views on opt-outs. In other words, in spite of his recent attempts to con headmasters of grant-maintained schools, the hon. Gentleman has not changed his mind on opt-outs, and his implacable opposition to grant-maintained status remains unchanged.
Therefore the debate has been informative, but not in the ways that the Opposition wanted it to be. We have established that education is in no sense starved of resources. It has received more and more money systematically, year on year, ever since the Government have been in office.
Secondly, we have clearly shown our commitment to improving quality and standards in education. All of the measures which we have put in place—the curriculum, testing, independent inspection, the publication of the performance results of schools—have systematically ensured an increase in the quality and standards in education. That is our continuing commitment. We have heard no commitments and nothing of any substance from the Opposition tonight. I urge the House utterly to reject the motion.
|Division No. 119]||[10.00 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Ainger, Nick||Campbell-Savours, D N|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Canavan, Dennis|
|Allen, Graham||Cann, Jamie|
|Alton, David||Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Chidgey, David|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Church, Judith|
|Austin-Walker, John||Clapham, Michael|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Clark, Dr David (South Shields)|
|Barnes, Harry||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Barron, Kevin||Clelland, David|
|Bayley, Hugh||Coffey, Ann|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Cohen, Harry|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Bell, Stuart||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Corbett, Robin|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Corston, Jean|
|Berry, Roger||Cox, Tom|
|Betts, Clive||Cummings, John|
|Blair, Rt Hon Tony||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Blunkett, David||Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)|
|Boateng, Paul||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Bradley, Keith||Dalyell, Tam|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Darling, Alistair|
|Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Davidson, Ian|
|Burden, Richard||Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)|
|Byers, Stephen||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Caborn, Richard||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Callaghan, Jim||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)|
|Denham, John||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Dewar, Donald||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Dixon, Don||Lewis, Terry|
|Dobson, Frank||Liddell, Mrs Helen|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Litherland, Robert|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Livingstone, Ken|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Eastham, Ken||Loyden, Eddie|
|Enright, Derek||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Etherington, Bill||McAllion, John|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||McCartney, Ian|
|Fatchett, Derek||Macdonald, Calum|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||McFall, John|
|Fisher, Mark||McKelvey, William|
|Flynn, Paul||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||McLeish, Henry|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Foulkes, George||McMaster, Gordon|
|Fraser, John||McNamara, Kevin|
|Fyfe, Maria||MacShane, Denis|
|Galbraith, Sam||McWilliam, John|
|Galloway, George||Madden, Max|
|Gapes, Mike||Maddock, Diana|
|Garrett, John||Mahon, Alice|
|Gerrard, Neil||Mandelson, Peter|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Marek, Dr John|
|Godman, Dr Norman|