Burdens on Schools

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 2nd March 1999.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education 7:23 pm, 2nd March 1999

I beg to move, That this House deplores the bureaucratic burdens placed on schools by the Government which are seriously undermining schools' ability to run their own affairs; condemns the pursuit of uniformity at the expense of diversity; considers the Government's proposals for performance-related pay for teachers to be cumbersome and unworkable; believes the complicated process of bidding for centralised initiatives is fragmenting budgetary responsibility and has caused unacceptable delays in setting indicative budgets; and further believes that the Government's ceaseless flow of directives to schools and LEAs has become a significant obstacle to raising educational standards. I begin by acknowledging the letter that I received yesterday from the Secretary of State, in which he explained that he would be unable to attend the debate because he is abroad on Government business. I accept that explanation and appreciate his having written to explain his absence.

We have tabled the motion because of the extraordinary shift in the mood of teachers, parents and pupils in the two years since the Labour Government were elected. When they were elected nearly two years ago, the Government undoubtedly had in their favour a fund of good will.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I hear the education Whip.

There were many people in education who believed that things could indeed only get better, but, in slightly less than two years, there has been a shift, from good will, to giving the Government the benefit of the doubt, to what can only be described as frustration and anger. According to the latest research—an independent survey for the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers—only 17 per cent. of teachers now support the Government's education policies, 58 per cent. are very dissatisfied, and 94 per cent. believe that teaching is becoming a less attractive profession to enter because of the Government's policies.

The problem is not only one for teachers—it is not as if some heroic battle is being fought in which, at the cost of teachers' good will, the Government are at least raising standards in schools. For the first time this year, we can see standards starting to fall: the pass rate in maths in primary schools fell from 62 per cent. reaching the average expected standard to 59 per cent.; and, in English, the increase from 62 to 64 per cent. is the smallest since tests began four years ago. There is widespread scepticism in the world of education about whether the Secretary of State will be able to achieve his targets for literacy and numeracy in 2002.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does my hon. Friend think that the fact—which he so graphically demonstrated—that the teaching profession has lost faith in the Government might have something to do with the presence of so few Government Members here tonight, which demonstrates that the Government do not really care about education, education, education, as they said before the election they did? Look how empty the Government Benches are.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is quite right. It is not education, education, education; the problem is regulation, regulation, regulation. That is why schools already doubt that they will be able to achieve the Government's targets for literacy and numeracy. Perhaps the Minister for School Standards will show solidarity with her boss tonight by making it clear that she, too, will resign if the Government do not achieve their targets for literacy and numeracy by 2002.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Has my hon. Friend had a chance to read today's Order Paper? Not only does the motion rightly condemn the Government for over-regulation, but, to demonstrate the validity of that, there are five delegated legislation regulations, all to do with education, to be dealt with by the House at 10 o'clock tonight, without debate. If that does not demonstrate the validity of his case, I do not know what does.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The burden of regulation and legislation which the Government are imposing on schools is quite simply unacceptable.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order, in the middle of a debate, for a Government Whip to be going from row to row, handing out speeches to Government Members? Is that Government—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The movements of Government Whips are not a matter for the occupant of the Chair.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Last year, the Government sent 322 documents and directives to schools and local education authorities. The reason why they are unable to raise standards in our schools was put to me very simply by one head teacher who said, "I believe that David Blunkett is sincere when he talks about raising standards," but added, "The only way that I can raise standards in my school is by ignoring all the letters and instructions that I get sent by him and the Department for Education and Employment." Teachers and head teachers throughout the land are saying that that is the problem that they have to overcome.

The Government's interventions and initiatives, supposedly to raise education standards, are not part of the solution, but part of the problem. Look at what is happening in four crucial education areas. First, there was the class size pledge: no doubt, focus groups told the Labour party that small classes were popular, and said, "Why not make a pledge to reduce class sizes?" Once elected, the Labour Government set about implementing that pledge in the only way they know—by passing a law making it illegal to carry out an act of education in a class of more than 30 five, six or seven-year-olds. That is the Government's approach to education issues—they do not think about the real world of education. They did not think of the increase in mixed-age classes that has resulted from the way in which the class size pledge has been implemented; nor of the successful schools that happily educate classes of more than 30 and deliver high standards. I hope that the Minister for School Standards will confirm that there are schools that achieve 100 per cent. success in literacy and numeracy while teaching five, six and seven-year-olds in classes of more than 30, and that those schools are willing to carry on doing that as long as they believe that they can deliver high-quality education.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

My hon. Friend is correct to say that the Government did not think about issues such as vertical streaming and the effect on those in key stage 2 when they put the measure before the House in the School Standards and Framework Bill. I assure my hon. Friend that Opposition Members warned the Government time and time again in Committee—but they did not listen.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is quite right, and has been eloquent in exploring that point in Committee and subsequently. I think that the penny is beginning to drop. I refer to an account of the Prime Minister's first visit to one of the education roadshows following the launch of the Green Paper on teachers' pay. The article, which appeared in the journal of the NAS/UWT reports the Prime Minister as follows: He said that it may be better to introduce a class assistant to a large class rather than reduce class size to below 30 with a single teacher". That is a crucial point that we have put to Ministers time and time again. When there is per capita funding, if schools are forced to turn away children who would increase class sizes beyond 30, they must also turn away the accompanying funding. Schools are having to make teaching and classroom assistants redundant because of the Government's class size pledge. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the previous Government's record was sufficient when 40 per cent. of 11-year-olds did not attain adequate standards in English and maths? Does he believe that that was a good performance by the Conservatives, who now oppose this Government's efforts to put matters right?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

If that is a question from the Government Whip, I think that he could have done a little better. We support raising standards in schools. The problem is that the Government are getting in the way of that objective by imposing bureaucratic burdens on schools. Look at the way in which the Government implemented the literacy strategy. I shall quote from a letter from the chairman of the governing body of a school describing that school's experience in delivering the literacy strategy. He said: The recent OFSTED inspection in January confirmed the high attainments in English, Maths and Science but showed concern that our rigid adherence to the literacy hour at Key Stage 1 may have contributed to the reduced level of challenge in English experienced by the more able pupils. He continued—

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I am quoting the comments of the chairman of a school's governing body and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen. He said: We are … placed in the difficult position of having to question the extent to which our schemes of work should comply with the demands of the regulations when our previous approach generated clear benefits for our children, whatever their ability.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour, Shipley

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to scrap the literacy hour?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what our policy is. Instead of applying another indiscriminate initiative to all schools—however well they are doing—the Government should instead target the literacy strategy on schools that clearly have a problem. We do not believe in imposing an indiscriminate compulsory literacy hour that takes no account of how a school is performing in that area. If schools are delivering high literacy standards, it is not the role of the House or of politicians to go nosing into the classroom saying that those schools must stop teaching reading in a way that works simply because they have passed a regulation stating that it should be done differently. That is no way to raise standards in the classroom.

Let us look not just at the class size pledge or the literacy strategy, but at performance-related pay. The Government pride themselves on their public relations skills, but the debate on performance-related pay, initiated in the past few weeks, has been a shambles. The Government have been trying a hard cop, soft cop act—the trouble is that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister cannot seem to decide who is the hard cop and who is the soft cop. The Secretary of State described teachers as "snivelling cynics" while the Prime Minister praised their "awe-inspiring dedication". This is yet another intrusive, bureaucratic and heavy-handed method of trying to increase pay for teachers in the classroom.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

In light of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, would he care to comment on a recent opinion poll conducted for the NAS/UWT which revealed that 57 per cent. of teachers are in favour of linking pay to appraisal? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that teachers working in our schools are wrong?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady knows very well—or she ought to know—that not one single representative body for teachers supports the Government's proposals for introducing performance-related pay. It does not matter what it says in the crib note from the Government Whip, the fact is that no teacher in the land will support a proposal that will cost £250 million in administration and in appointing external assessors before a single pound reaches the pay packet of a single teacher. That is the cost of the bureaucracy involved in the Government's proposals.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury

Did my hon. Friend note that the point raised by the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) was completely irrelevant? It was very general and did not refer to the performance-related pay proposal. Under any system, pay is ultimately related to performance in some way.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the fact is that neither the NAS/UWT nor anyone else supports the proposal. We oppose it because it is cumbersome, bureaucratic and wasteful.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

If the system is so wasteful and wrong, why did the previous Government introduce performance-related pay into the civil service, including the Department for Education and Employment?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

We are talking about the largest single performance-related pay scheme to be introduced anywhere in the world. Its scope and its intricacy go way beyond any arrangements that we introduced into the civil service or elsewhere. The fact is that it simply will not work. As the Government are so proud of the 16,000 responses that they have received to their consultation document—there are doubtless many more to come—will the Minister concede that it will clearly be impossible to introduce the first stage of performance-related pay this autumn? The Government should at least delay implementation in order to consider the legitimate criticisms levelled by teachers who say that the measure will be an extraordinary waste of time for teachers and head teachers.

It has been estimated that, in a large secondary school with perhaps more than 100 teachers, a head teacher could spend half a day a week simply doing the external appraisals that will be required by the Government's cumbersome and complicated scheme. What about finance? [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Government Front Benchers must not keep interrupting the debate with remarks from a sedentary position.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I have referred to the class size pledge, the literacy strategy and to performance-related pay. I must mention also the way in which the Government are changing the financing of schools and education in this country. The story is the same: it is about heavy-handed bureaucracy and centralised control from Whitehall.

We know what the Government are like: it is very convenient to pop up on the "Today" programme and announce another initiative and another little pot of money that is supposed to finance it. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are always announcing another little gimmick that they hope will get them 48 hours of good publicity. However, schools up and down the country must then waste time and effort submitting bids for penny packets of money when the administrative costs involved in preparing the bids often exceed the amount that schools may receive at the end of the day.

The Minister set up a task force on bureaucracy, and one of its first recommendations was that bidding could be used as a selective basis for encouraging initiative in education. However, it cannot be used time after time as a means of supposedly delivering national policy objectives because it will end up undermining the ability of head teachers to manage their budgets. We must trust head teachers to decide whether it would be best to spend money on more books for the school library, on increasing the maths teacher's pay in order to retain him or on refurbishing school buildings. There is no point in saying that, if schools want to achieve those desirable aims, they must apply to the Secretary of State for a personal cheque from the Department for Education and Employment before they can do anything. That is no way to run a school.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

No, I want to make progress.

If the Minister is honest, she will accept that head teachers refer again and again to the problems in their schools caused by the Government's policies.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

No, I shall make progress.

That is why the Government keep announcing that they are trying to cut bureaucracy. The process began on 21 May 1997, within three weeks of the Government arriving in office, when they announced: "Blunkett cuts red tape." Just like every other initiative from the Government, that was relaunched and repeated, so that, by the end of July 1997, red tape was to get a "caning", according to the Minister of State.

By 16 January 1998, the Government were announcing: Morris cuts through the red tape". We might have hoped that the hon. Lady was making progress by then, but, instead, the Government realised that they needed someone else to blame and announced a month later: Government orders investigation into £142 million taken from schools for local authority red tape". Much of the time, local authorities are simply having to comply with the instructions and demands sent by the Government.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

No, I want to make progress.

All that I am doing is quoting press notices from the Minister's Department, which has claimed again and again that it is taking action to reduce bureaucracy.

On 13 April 1998, the announcement was: Government takes action to cut bureaucracy". One might have thought that at least that was the end of story, but on 1 June, the Department announced: Blunkett pledges action to tackle needless red tape". It became a pledge for the future. Only last week, the Minister announced that the Government were keeping performance red tape to a minimum". However, seven press notices and six relaunches later, we are still nowhere near tackling the problem.

The reason is to be found in the terms of reference for the working party on bureaucracy set up by the Government. The first paragraph of the working party's report makes it clear what was the problem. It says: This report reflects the agreed conclusions that the Group reached within the constraints it was advised that its remit imposed. Inevitably, some individual members would wish to go beyond that and change the statutory framework in ways which reduce teachers' workloads. That is the crucial point—the working party was not even allowed to consider the real source of the problem, which is the primary and secondary legislation that the Government have passed. They set up a working party on bureaucracy, but did not allow it to consider the real problem. That would be like a Home Office leak inquiry that could not interview Home Office Ministers. There is no point setting up an inquiry on bureaucracy and then refusing to allow it to consider legislation.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I have a soft spot for the hon. Lady, so I shall give way.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in condemning Tory-controlled Cambridgeshire county council, which, for the second year running, has not passported the increase in the standard spending assessment made by the Government? That upsets teachers in my constituency.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I have been reliably reformed by my hon. Friend that the council is already spending above the SSA level, and that is relevant.

We do not need to use the Government's method to raise standards in schools. There are better alternatives—Conservative ways of raising standards. As an absolute minimum, every time the Government introduce regulations, instructions and directives to the House and impose them on schools and local education authorities, they should publish their estimate of how much teacher time and financial resources would be necessary simply to comply with them. We could then have a rational debate about the extent to which the costs that were being imposed would be matched by the benefits that were being claimed.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

No, I am reaching my conclusion.

I am trying to explain to Labour Members that they and their party are responsible for a catastrophic collapse of confidence in schools and teachers caused by the very initiatives that they boast about in the House. Conservative Members believe in setting schools free, and giving them a break from the tiresome, tedious flow of instructions and directives from the Labour party is the single best way of raising standards in our schools.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards) 7:45 pm, 2nd March 1999

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: commends the Government for the introduction of vital measures to improve standards, particularly in literacy and numeracy; applauds the extra flexibility it has introduced in the national curriculum for primary pupils and support for work-related learning for 14–16 year olds; welcomes the Government's support for greater diversity through specialist schools and education action zones; believes that the extra £19 billion for schools will underpin the drive for higher standards and welcomes plans to reward good teachers well; congratulates Ministers for introducing much greater clarity to mailings for schools with a view to keeping paperwork to a minimum; recognises the huge benefits which the National Grid for Learning and voluntary schemes of work bring in reducing unnecessary paperwork; and notes that the Opposition has no proposals to raise standards in schools. The Opposition tend to use Opposition day debates as a way of announcing a U-turn on policy, which I do not mind. What is interesting tonight is that we have heard the second U-turn on class sizes in the past 18 months. The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), who led for the Opposition in the Standing Committee considering the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, seemed to have been converted to the view that class sizes matter. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), who backed the right hon. Gentleman up in Committee, has said tonight that class sizes do not matter and we should not be addressing the issue.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

The Minister and I served on that Committee and she knows only too well that the Conservatives made it clear what effect the regulation limiting infant classes to 30 pupils would have, particularly in rural schools, where there would be vertical streaming and pupils at key stage 2 would be in larger classes. We were disputing not the principle but the Government's regulatory method and their adamancy that there would be no flexibility. The hon. Lady knows that that was the Opposition's position, not the one that she has just stated.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

That is exactly my point. The hon. Lady cannot have it both ways. One cannot say that class sizes matter and then deny the means of achieving smaller classes, but that is exactly what she and her colleagues sought to do throughout the Bill's passage through Committee.

I do not mind the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) using Supply days to say that he has reversed the Opposition's policy, but I object to him trying to rewrite history, as he has done today. When he was speaking, I had to remind myself that, on education, the previous Government were the most centralising Government since the war. The Tory Government introduced an education Bill each year for 18 years, but their average on education quangos was even better—they managed to set up nine in eight years. In his speech and his press release today, the hon. Gentleman complained about 322 edicts and directives issued by the Government within a year. I shall return to that point later. With 322 directives, we are far behind the number that he managed to achieve when he was in government.

The Education Reform Act 1988 produced not 322, not 500, not 700, not 800, but 1,066 statutory instruments, 670 of which were introduced in the two years following the legislation's passage through the House. Have the Conservatives forgotten—I have not because I was in school at the time—the mountain of paperwork caused by the introduction of the national curriculum? That was caused not by a concerted effort to raise standards, but by the fact that they kept getting it wrong and having to change their mind. They did not run trials; they did not consult; they did not provide resources to back up the policy, and their errors in introducing the national curriculum cost £744 million. There is no comparison between that figure and the amount that we have spent on introducing the literacy curriculum.

Let us be clear—the Opposition are entitled to change their mind, but they are not entitled to kid us or anyone else that their past actions can be wiped clean from the slate. The passion and enthusiasm displayed by the hon. Member for Havant today was that of the convert.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

The Minister comes from the west midlands, so she will understand my point. She talks about history; can she not understand the sense of betrayal felt by people in Staffordshire, where Labour candidates promised during the general election that a Labour Government would initiate wholesale reform of funding, including that for Staffordshire, which, as the hon. Lady knows, is at the very bottom of shire county funding? The Minister has now told us in answer to written questions that there will be a review in three years' time, after the next election, and even then Labour may not meet its promises. How dare she talk to the House about history—she has broken the rules of history.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

There is another hon. Gentleman who wants to wipe the slate clean. Let me remind him that Staffordshire was at the bottom of the table for money under his Government. What action did they take?

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

No, not again; it was bad enough the first time. What action did the hon. Gentleman's Government take to change or review Staffordshire's SSA? Staffordshire can now welcome a 6.5 per cent. increase in SSA. For the first time in years, it will be able to celebrate an increase in SSA and grant compared with that received under the hon. Gentleman's Government. I will take no lectures from him, given that, for 18 years, the Conservative Government failed to address the problems of SSAs. In comparison with that, three years, in which to do it well and get it right, is but a short time to wait.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Labour, Chatham and Aylesford

What has my hon. Friend to say to Medway parents, teachers and schoolchildren, given that Liberal Democrats and Tories voted down the Labour budget, cutting £250,000 that was earmarked to go straight to primary schools, despite £28 million reserves? Does that not show that only the Labour party is interested in investing in education, and that the Tories and Liberal Democrats are interested only in cutting budgets?

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

My hon. Friend is right. I have met many head teachers in his constituency. They will have learned the lesson from that decision that only Labour can be trusted to put more money into education. That is so throughout the country.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

On precisely the assertion that only Labour can be trusted to put money into education, what would the Minister say to Labour councillors in Leicestershire, who, with Liberal councillors, voted against a Conservative proposal that money from the Government for increased education spending should be passported to education, and instead voted for a lower amount to be spent on education? What does she say to the Labour leader of Hertfordshire council, who has received a letter from the Secretary of State expressing his regret that Labour Hertfordshire will not passport money to the education budget?

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

I would say exactly what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said: passport the money. We have secured money from the Treasury, and it should be passported to education. The record of Labour local authorities stands in stark contrast to that of Conservative authorities.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

As everybody is asking how the Minister would respond to particular things, may I ask how she would respond to the simple fact that Liberal Democrat-run authorities provide more money per capita than Labour-run authorities?

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

It is not that I distrust the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), but I would look at the figures. As my hon. Friend the Whip says, it is not so in Devon. If the hon. Gentleman wants a longer debate on the point, I would be happy to return to it in an Adjournment debate.

The Conservative motion says that we are placing burdens on schools that represent a significant obstacle to raising educational standards. We know from the speech of the hon. Member for Havant his exact definition of a burden. He thinks that the literacy hour is a burden. He told us that he thinks that it is over-prescriptive and too rigid. His hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) thinks, strangely enough, that 60 minutes is too long for the literacy hour. When the numeracy hour comes along next year, she will probably be able to correct that comment.

If we had taken notice of Conservative Members' comments about the literacy hour, everything that this Government have done on literacy in the past 18 months would not have happened. There would have been no literacy hour, no retraining of primary school teachers in best practice and no new emphasis on phonics and teaching grammar. There would have been no pressure on schools to teach best practice, no research into different strategies and no spreading of what we know works. It goes without saying that, had matters been left to the Tories, there would also have been no £44 million—which has bought 10 million extra books for our schools—and probably no national year of reading.

The Tories would have carried on doing exactly what they did in power. As a result, in five years' time, four out of 10 11-year-old children still would not be able to read, write or use numbers effectively. It is no good the hon. Member for Havant quoting last year's national curriculum test results, because they were the last such tests before the introduction of the literacy hour. They are therefore a sad indictment of his Government. We will reach our targets, and a generation of children will rejoice as a result.

I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Havant not in his speech but in The Sun earlier this month, when he said: Children who are not taught to read or do basic arithmetic are being betrayed". By his admission, four out of 10 children were betrayed by his Government, which is exactly why we have introduced the literacy hour.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Will the Minister commit herself to the Secretary of State's pledge to resign if the Government do not reach their literacy and numeracy targets by 2002?

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

Of course I will; I have already done so. Indeed, I generously commit the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), too. We speak with one voice. The hon. Gentleman's question is a reflection of what life was like under teams of Conservative Ministers, when a Secretary of State would promise to resign but the rest of the team would not go too. I will tell the hon. Gentleman another thing: there will be a team celebration when we achieve those targets—because achieve those targets we certainly will.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman's understanding of the literacy hour is shallower than that of any teacher and of most parents whom I have met. As Mr. Woodhead said when he presented his annual report earlier in the month, the literacy hour is a serious attempt to draw together, from inspection and research evidence, approaches which are known to work. There is always, moreover, room for professional manoeuvre: the idea that teachers must minute by minute adhere to each prescribed step in the programme is a myth promulgated by those who reject any attempt to provide practical assistance to teachers as an onslaught on professional autonomy. We have learned in this debate that the hon. Gentleman is on the side of the myth promulgators. This Government are on the side of those who want to provide practical assistance to teachers doing a difficult task. We have provided in the literacy hour—this is what the hon. Gentleman has missed—training in best practice and materials to do the job. We have asked teachers to exercise their professional judgment within a framework of best practice which we know works. That is what the literacy hour is; that is what teachers are doing; and that is what the numeracy hour will be, too.

The hon. Member for Havant did not once mention whether the literacy hour works. It is no good his scowling. He would sooner count the bits of paper that are sent to schools to support the literacy hour than he would consider evidence of whether it works. He is entitled to count bits of paper and ignore evidence. I admit that we could have avoided sending 40 bits of paper to schools by not introducing the literacy hour. But a generation of children would have been betrayed—to use the hon. Gentleman's words—had we not done so.

The same can be said for a range of other initiatives on those bits of paper that the hon. Member for Havant has been busy counting and weighing. Let us take home-school agreements, which get parents involved in schools. Is he against or for such agreements? What about target setting? By not introducing that, we could have avoided sending nine letters to schools. Is he against or for it? What of homework policy? I think we could have avoided sending two or three more letters by not encouraging schools to set homework, but that would have meant that half the children still were not set homework, and we know that homework makes a difference to standards.

We could have saved bits of paper by not launching the national year of reading or education action zones, and we could have saved two letters by not letting schools know that they were getting £1,000 to spend on books. Unlike the letters, missives and directives sent to schools when the Conservatives were in office, our paperwork did not say, "We have changed our mind, or got it wrong last time, so here is another letter"; instead, it was part of a coherent package and a standards agenda.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

On the subject of target setting, today I received a letter from Grahame Arnold, head teacher of the Adams school in Wem—one of the most successful Shropshire schools—and chairman of the Shropshire secondary heads. He said: The government's new target-setting agenda for schools, teachers and governors often produces huge amounts of information for the government that is irrelevant to individual pupil performance.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

I will just have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman and the head whom he quotes. I would sooner cite the Ofsted evidence and the research evidence, which show that clear target setting in schools raises standards. It seems to be an absolute matter of fact that teachers set targets and support their children's learning in order to achieve those targets. Target setting is a good thing.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

So Mr. Arnold is wrong, is he?

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

I disagree with him; I do not know how many times the hon. Gentleman wants me to say that. Target setting is important to the agenda of raising standards.

The Opposition motion mentions diversity. It is becoming increasingly clear—it emerged again from the speech of the hon. Member for Havant—what the Tories now mean by diversity. The Daily Telegraph tells us that the Leader of the Opposition is poised to ditch the national curriculum that the Conservatives introduced 10 years ago. I read in the New Statesman that the regular Willetts lunches at the Centre for Policy Studies speculate about trusting groups such as teachers to get on with their job as they think best. Most interesting, however, was the Daily Mail report that told us that the hon. Member for Havant wanted schools to be run by workers' co-operatives.

That sounds to me like turning the clock back. I do not mind that, but let us be clear that that is now the Opposition's idea of diversity—a return to "teach what you want, how you want." That would be diversity at the expense of standards, and we want no part of it.

There is a growing difference between the Opposition's definition of diversity and ours. The form of diversity that we have introduced supports standards and does not detract from them. We have expanded the specialist schools programme by 50 per cent. We have given those schools money to develop links with local schools—each will be different and reflect the flavour of the partnership within schools.

We have freed up key stages 1 and 2 so that teachers can concentrate on the basics but still teach a broad range of subjects. We have offered flexibility at key stage 4. We have allowed schools to forge links with further education colleges. We have introduced advanced skills teachers so that schools can develop ways of using the skills of their best teachers. We have introduced and financed education action zones, giving them the freedom on the curriculum and on teachers' contracts that was denied by the previous Government.

We have introduced a new lighter-touch inspection framework for our most successful schools. We have delegated up to £1 billion so that schools now have the freedom to spend money in the way that they want. The key difference here is that delegation under the Tories always meant freedom as to which cuts to make, whereas delegation under the Government means freedom to decide how to spend a growing amount of money in the education budget, year after year.

I do agree with the only serious point in the speech of the hon. Member for Havant—that there is a constant need to ensure that our dealings with schools are as efficient as possible. That is why we have introduced stringent new measures to keep the paper in check. Since September 1998, a typical primary school has received just eight mailings, containing a total of 42 items. Only 13 required action from heads; the rest were for information. We have introduced a new system of clearly identifying, on every mailing, whether it is for action or for information.

Let me give the House an example of a typical mailing—our most recent, which was sent to schools on 11 February. It contained, for primary schools, two items about teaching literacy to those students in greatest need of help. It contained the pay review body's recommended teachers pay scales and a list of new DfEE information available on request. A typical secondary school would not have received the information about the literacy items, but would have received information to be distributed to its students about financial support in higher education. Five hundred secondary schools would also have received a consultation paper about the practical implications of data protection in schools. Under the Conservative Government, that consultation paper would have been sent to all 24,000 schools. We have introduced a system of sending the consultation papers to a cross-section of schools, so that they are not a burden on schools.

Which one of those documents should we not have sent? Should we not have sent the pay scales? Should we not have sent the information about how to help children who are behind with literacy? Should we not have sent secondary schools information to pass to students about financial help with higher education? We are told by the hon. Member for Havant that we have issued 322 edicts and directives in a year. Numeracy lessons cannot come quickly enough: let me tell him that 179 of those were sent for consultation or action, and not to schools but to local education authorities. They included distance learning material, guidance in tackling truancy, information to help schools raise standards and guidance on early-years development.

Which should we not send? Do you not want to tackle truancy? Do you not want to raise standards in the early years? Do you not want to let the local authorities—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Lady must use the correct parliamentary form of address.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

Please accept my apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Havant must decide which of those initiatives he is not prepared to pursue.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment, Minister of State (Department for Education and Employment) (School Standards)

No, I will not.

What was noticeable about the Opposition motion and the speech of the hon. Member for Havant was that, throughout, there was no mention of parents, no mention of high standards, no expectation of what our young people might achieve, no understanding of the partnership between Government and schools that is essential to raising standards and not a flicker of an understanding that part of the role of Government is to show leadership.

If turning the tide of under-achievement for schools means that we send them 30 extra letters a year, so be it. The Conservatives have carped tonight, but I reckon that a generation of children will be on our side, not theirs. I take seriously the issue of paperwork. But do not weigh it or count it. Read it and evaluate it, and take decisions on the basis not of how many words it contains but of whether it contributes to the agenda of raising standards.

The material that we send to schools is part of a coherent package to raise standards. An attack on that is an attack on standards, and the hon. Member for Havant should be ashamed.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath 8:08 pm, 2nd March 1999

I am delighted once again to have the opportunity to follow the Minister. Whether the House agreed or disagreed with what she said, the whole House will acknowledge the passion and conviction with which she spoke. It was interesting to hear the absolute sincerity with which she committed herself and the whole of the Front-Bench team to resign, should they fail to meet their targets. That was in sharp contrast to Lord Patten, who, as Secretary of State, when he was John Patten, promised that if he failed to meet his targets in relation to grant-maintained schools, he would eat his hat garnished—which, as far as I am aware, he has so far failed to do.

Because the Minister spoke with such passion, it is important for me to explain to her clearly why the Liberal Democrats will support the Opposition motion tonight. However, in doing so I would enter two caveats.

First, I echo the Minister's words by pointing out that there is a degree of irony in the Opposition's tabling the motion when they were undoubtedly responsible for placing a significant number of burdens and unnecessary bureaucracy on our schools. For example, we need look only at the unbelievably cumbersome and bureaucratic system of nursery vouchers, which I was delighted that the new Government rapidly abolished. There are many other examples, such as the early version of the national curriculum and the burdens created by the Conservative Government's proposals for grant-maintained schools. However, if my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that he will pick up some of those, which are clearly illustrated by the Liberal Democrats' amendment.

My second caveat is that I do not accept that the Government should have sat on their hands and done nothing. Under the previous Administration, many people in our schools complained of innovation fatigue, and they desperately wanted to be left alone by the new Administration. But given the state in which the previous Administration left our education service, that was not an option. Therefore a number of changes were necessary, some of which I support, and I accept that they placed burdens on our schools.

The issue for tonight's debate is not about burdens being placed on schools—burdens will always be placed on schools—it is rather, quite properly, about whether the burdens imposed by the Government are necessary: some are not.

The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) made a powerful case, so I shall not repeat all his points. But the Minister was right when she said that, in making a judgment on the issue, we should consider the evidence. I want to consider the evidence coming from those who work in our schools—governors, teachers and head teachers.

I cannot help but reflect on a recent quote in The Times Educational Supplement from a primary head teacher. He said: A secondary head phoned me a couple of weeks ago. He told me how tired he was of no longer feeling in control of his own establishment. So much was being done to him from the outside, be it by the local authority or the DfEE, that he no longer had the enthusiasm to make it work. In the past 24 hours, my officers have been in touch with the two major bodies that represent governors and managers in our schools—the National Governors Council and the National Association of Governors and Managers. On hearing about today's debate, the National Governors Council said: We are very concerned about the burdens imposed on schools by the deluge of government directives and new initiatives. Target-setting in particular is causing serious difficulties. Many of our local associations up and down the country are saying 'We don't know how we can cope with this.' The National Association of Governors and Managers made similar points.

Photo of Dr George Turner Dr George Turner Labour, North West Norfolk

The hon. Gentleman made it clear that he believed that we should be considering the evidence, but at the moment he is examining hearsay. If he is to do what he said he would do, surely he must tell us which of the Government initiatives he believes should not have been taken into the classroom. Will he quickly move on to that before he so firmly nails his colours to the Tory mast?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to bide his time a wee while, I promise that I shall address that very point. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is important to listen to the views of those who work in our schools if we are to determine whether unnecessary burdens have been placed on our schools. The evidence that I have quoted from a head teacher and from the two bodies representing governors and managers is backed up by the evidence that we have from teachers themselves.

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that tens of thousands of teachers are leaving the profession early, demoralised and dispirited, and sadly fewer and fewer people are coming forward to join it. One reason for that which is cited by many of those leaving is the increased burdens being placed on them. It is frightening that more and more teachers are telling me that they are tired of being told by the Government how they should teach and even organise their classrooms.

It is almost as if the Government do not understand the pressures that our teachers already face. Just after Christmas, I received a copy of a circular letter—the sort of thing which many of us receive at Christmas—from a teacher who was the only one remaining of a group of 10 who had joined the profession in 1967. She said: I'm absolutely sick of school—it's really hard work and I never know what I'm supposed to be doing! Next term we have an Ofsted inspection which is about the most awful thing that can happen to a school. We are all up to our eyes in paperwork … We spend as much time working out of school as we do in school and there's plenty to do at the weekends as well. Housework hardly gets a look-in. I wish we could win the Lottery … Luckily I stay healthy and Joe does a lot of things like cooking when he's not working. I don't know how we'd manage otherwise. Isn't it awful to be looking forward to retiring—wishing your life away?".

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

I hope that the hon. Lady will consider the number of teachers who are leaving the profession early because they, too, feel exactly what this teacher is expressing about the profession. If the hon. Lady is not prepared to acknowledge that those teachers are feeling demoralised and disillusioned, in part because of the burdens that are being placed on them, the crisis in our classrooms, begun under the previous Administration, will continue under her Government.

Photo of Liz Blackman Liz Blackman Labour, Erewash

Has the hon. Gentleman spoken to teachers in his constituency who are delivering the literacy hour about the progress that children are already making? I have throughout my constituency, and the news is positive.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

Of course, the hon. Lady is right. Any hon. Member taking part in an education debate should have spent time talking to many teachers, and I certainly have. Many teachers to whom I have spoken believe that many good ideas are contained within the literacy hour.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

No, I am in the middle of replying to the hon. Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman). I may give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute.

No doubt those teachers will also say that there are good ideas in the numeracy hour. But many feel that the literacy hour imposes on them, as will the numeracy hour, a particular way of operating which takes away their opportunity to be professionals: to gather evidence of good practice, rightly provided by the Government, and package it for the benefit of their pupils so as to do what the Government want, which is to raise standards.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

I should like to make a little progress if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

The Minister was keen to deal with the Green Paper on teachers' pay. The House will be interested to know what she said in a press release issued by the Department on 25 February, just a few days ago: Some of the criticism we have heard is that appraisal, as proposed, will be far too bureaucratic. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are proposing a cycle which need not be unwieldy or place an additional burden on school life. She suggests that the proposals in the Green Paper will not place an additional burden on school life. I do not know where the Minister is living, because she is certainly not living in the real world.

It does not matter whether the proposal is right or wrong, because independent people have done an analysis of the amount of work involved and have found that it will take the head teacher of an 850-strong comprehensive with 45 staff more than 100 hours to carry out the necessary appraisal—assuming 32 per cent. of teachers want to be appraised for the next stage, and excluding the time that governors will have to spend on it. That undoubtedly places an additional burden on schools.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) asked me what proposals I would not put into practice. I shall give him a couple of examples. The current bidding system—Labour's long odds education lottery—is a good example of the centralisation of education provision. It has placed enormous burdens on schools, which have to provide all the data that the local education authorities need to make their bids.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that, since the Government came to power, a grand total of over 16,000 bids for funds have been made by local education authorities on behalf of schools up and down the land. Of those 16,000 bids, 10,000 have failed. Think of the enormous amount of bureaucracy, effort and red tape people in our schools and LEAs have had to face to make bids that have not even been successful.

In some parts of the country, the situation is even worse. In Oxfordshire, a grand total of 1,115 bids have been made, and 1,002 of them have failed. The inordinate amount of time spent by officers and people in our schools on that procedure is horrendous. I would get rid of large chunks of the bidding system.

If the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk wants a good example of the penny packets to which the hon. Member for Havant referred, I suggest that he examines the Government's proposal for a children's Parliament. It got wonderful headlines, and everyone thought that the Government were doing wonderful things—until they looked at the figures. Each participating school will receive £10. The paperwork required for the bid costs more than that, let alone the support for schools.

Photo of Dr George Turner Dr George Turner Labour, North West Norfolk

The hon. Gentleman seems to be losing sight of the big picture. I spent years on an education committee watching the backlog of building work grow. The schools in my patch have welcomed the opportunity to make their case to have their school buildings renovated, improved and added to. They want to be able to bid, because they do not want bureaucrats in Whitehall telling them where their priorities should lie. With what would the hon. Gentleman replace the bidding system? Would he let civil servants decide which schools get the money?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

If the hon. Gentleman served on a local education authority, surely he should accept that a more appropriate method is for the local education authority to be able to allocate the funds. He does not seem willing to distinguish between some of the good proposals that the Government have introduced and those that impose additional burdens.

Liberal Democrats have praised and welcomed some of the Government's proposals. I have sometimes acknowledged that they are worth while even though they would, in certain circumstances, increase the burden on schools. However, I have also produced evidence from teachers, governors and head teachers to show that some proposals create unnecessary bureaucracy in our schools and are damaging the Government's ability to raise standards.

In their desire to capture the education headlines almost on a daily basis, the Labour Government have failed to recognise that they are deprofessionalising teaching and demoralising governors. Without those teachers and governors, the legitimate standards agenda will not be achieved.

A senior Government education policy adviser, quoted in the latest edition of the Education Journal, gave the game away. He was asked why there could not be a let-up in the flow of initiatives. He replied: The public will think we have run out of steam. The problem is that without a let-up from the unnecessary burdens, schools will run out of steam long before the Government do.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South 8:25 pm, 2nd March 1999

There are times when I hear Conservative Members speaking in the House and think that I am in some sort of post-modern "Alice in Wonderland" world where things are getting curiouser and curiouser. I am sad that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) seems to have associated himself with that position.

As my hon. Friend the Minister made perfectly clear, what we have heard from the Conservative party bears no relation to its record in government. I am afraid that I am going to take Conservative Members back to that record in government, particularly on centralisation. There were two education Acts: one in 1988 and the other in 1993. The Education Reform Act 1988 had 238 sections, and the Education Act 1993 had 308 sections; 1,000 amendments and 55 new clauses were tabled; and more than 400 new powers were given to Ministers as a consequence of the 1993 Act.

The Conservative party's education policy was in constant turmoil over that period. There were four Secretaries of State for Education between 1989 and 1992. It is well known that the Conservatives brought us mad cow disease in the 1980s, but they also managed to bring mad Maoism—the doctrine of permanent revolution. There was such mad Maoism that, according to the magazine with which I was involved at the time, history teachers were tearing their hair out. HMI inspectors were driven to distraction by the amount of regulation produced by the Conservative Government and by the chopping and changing. Things moved on every time Mrs. Thatcher fished in her handbag for a new draft of the national curriculum, or every time she listened to some barmy, right-wing educationist. Constant changes were made. The only positive result was the introduction of the Baker days, when the poor, hard-pressed teachers were given time to catch up on the paperwork. That was the record of the Conservative party during that period.

The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) referred to setting schools free, which is a fairly waffly thing to say. Were the Conservatives setting schools free when the much-vaunted funding agency for grant-maintained schools was directed from Whitehall by John Patten? We had centralisation and Maoism, and I would not have been surprised if they had have sent teachers into the fields to learn how to tithe and to collect the corn.

In that period, we also had the nationalisation of education policy. Bureaucracy was piled upon bureaucracy. To give him credit, the hon. Member for Bath referred to the nursery voucher paperchase. The assisted places scheme helped only 60,000 children out of 7 million. There were even some good ideas, such as local management of schools and governors, but the difficulties were compounded by the lack and training and time provided.

The consequences were there for all to see. The Audit Commission found that, in real terms, there had been a cut of £44 per primary school pupil and of £110 per secondary school pupil between 1994 and 1997. Back-room bureaucrats had a field day under the Tories, while front-line services suffered. The legacy of that bureaucracy was this: 500,000 primary school children in classes of 30 or more, a chronic crisis in recruitment and teaching and unacceptable standards in literacy and numeracy. No wonder Steve Norris, the former Conservative Member of Parliament for Epping Forest, said: Our failure to improve the level of public education is one of the areas Conservatives have got to be most concerned about and frankly ashamed of".

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Will my hon. Friend add to his sad list of statistics the fact that 158 members of Her Majesty's Opposition are not present for the debate? That suggests that at least 96 per cent. of Opposition Members are showing, on their own Supply day, the degree of interest in education that was shown by their Government during the years that my hon. Friend is describing so graphically.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South

I agree, but that is amply made up for by the chutzpah and brass neck that we are hearing from the Opposition Front Bench.

Photo of Christopher Fraser Christopher Fraser Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

Given the hon. Gentleman's obvious mastery of the subject, will he concede that, proportionally, the parliamentary Labour party has fewer members present than the Conservatives?

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South

If the hon. Gentleman examines the record of Labour Members' attendance of education debates here and, for that matter, in Standing Committees, he will find that our record is far superior to that of members of his party. [HON. MEMBERS: "And this is an Opposition day."] Indeed it is.

Given the background, it is not surprising that the then Conservative education Ministers approached the School Standards and Framework Bill, enacted in 1998, with a certain amount of confusion and schizophrenia. Those of us who served on the Standing Committee witnessed, time after time, confusion over whether they should or should not accept the Bill's basic principles, and we are witnessing the same confusion this evening. What do the Conservatives oppose, and what alternatives do they suggest? Why are they in such difficulty?

It is a shame that the hon. Member for Havant is no longer present. In deference to his interest in philosophy, I was going to say that, essentially, the Conservatives' problem is one of philosophy. They have so mired and encrusted themselves over 18 years in their jaundiced view of the public-service ethos that they are incapable of distinguishing between enabling and empowering—what the present Government are doing for education—and the Stalinist direction of which their own Lady Thatcher was so enamoured.

The Conservatives really have only two models. One is mad market chaos—grant-maintained schools versus the rest; city technology colleges versus the rest; assisted places versus the rest. The other, which we saw in spades when they were in government, is centralisation, stamping out dissent and local education authority initiatives. The Opposition seem to sign up to a Hobbesian view of education—except that, in their case, rather than being nasty, brutish and short, it is nasty, smug and hideously complex. They are incapable of understanding, or unwilling to understand, the models of co-operation and collaboration offered by the present Government through initiatives such as education action zones and beacon schools.

We shall not intervene where it is not necessary. Where schools are working well and raising standards, there will be a light touch. My hon. Friend the Minister has said as much on previous occasions in respect of Ofsted. If there are problems, however, we will act: we will intervene, as the Government intervened over Hackney. That intervention can only be compared with the futile way in which the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), the former Secretary of State, dealt with Calderdale and Nottinghamshire.

We are setting targets for the raising of standards. We are encouraging local education authorities with educational development plans; we are encouraging people to learn from best practice. The results are transparent: a 5 per cent. increase in spending per annum, an extra £200 million for homework centres, 1,200 numeracy and literacy schools this summer, the inclusion of nutritional standards for school meals for the first time in 18 years, and education action zones to tackle under-achievement. I hope that before long there will be one in my constituency.

Those are the burdens that we are laying on schools, teachers, parents and pupils. I can only say that I am delighted that my schools in Blackpool have been burdened by the Government. From September, thousands of pupils will be kept out of classes of more than 30. They have been burdened with a successful capital bid of more than £5 million for 1999–2000 to build additional classrooms and employ extra teachers, to reduce overcrowding in secondary schools. They have been burdened with capital investment to repair and to renew buildings and equipment, with receiving £185,000 for the national literacy strategy, and with more than 1,000 new nursery places for three-year-olds from September 1999, in addition to free places for all four-year-olds. Incidentally, those places are crucial in a town such as Blackpool, where so many parents are in part-time and multiple employment. Those are the "burdens" that the Government are putting on people. They are necessary following the burdens that were put on them by the previous Government.

For the first time in 18 years, the Government are offering parents, teachers and governors a strategic and sensible vision of education for the future. It is challenging and ambitious, but a burden it is not. The Conservative party left us with the torpor of cynicism and an educational graveyard. Despite all its attempts to efface history, it seems to have made no effort to emerge and to learn from that.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford 8:36 pm, 2nd March 1999

For someone with a reputation for studying history, the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) shows remarkably little grasp of it when it comes to education. He seems to have forgotten that it was Conservative Members who dominated the debate on last year's School Standards and Framework Bill and who spoke day after day, while Labour Members sat like so many nodding donkeys doing exactly as their Whip required. The two Liberal Democrat Members who are present—the hon. Members for Bath (Mr. Foster) and for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis)—were the honourable exception: as always, they made their unique contribution to the proceedings. The debate follows directly from that Bill and the chapter after chapter of regulations, forms and rules with which the Government try to bind every aspect of education.

The Minister for School Standards put her figure on it, but she did not answer the challenge that she set herself. The question is not whether the Government have placed new burdens on the education system—that is beyond doubt; they have imposed massive burdens on our schools—but where the benefits are.

That is the question that Labour Members cannot answer. They attack the previous Government for their centralising policies, which we must interpret as an attack, fundamentally, on the national curriculum. We all know that there were problems with implementing that curriculum—there are problems with implementing any bold new strategy—but entrenching into the education system the principle of a national curriculum was one of the previous Government's greatest achievements in their 18 years in office.

When the Minister attacks Government quangos, ultimately, she is attacking Ofsted. Whatever may be said about the implementation of Ofsted's work, I think that its introduction and the change in culture that it has achieved is another great educational achievement of the previous Conservative Government. It underpinned the rise in education standards and improvement in GCSE and A-level results year after year under the previous Government, so the Labour party is all over the place when it tries to attack the principles that underpin the education revolution that the Conservatives achieved in their 18 years in power.

The Government latch on to soundbites and initiatives—anything that sells well in the papers the next day—at the cost of any genuine progress in education attainment.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

The hon. Gentleman talked about the philosophical direction of the previous Government and, as an example of that, about the achievement at the top end of the academic spectrum and improved GCSE results. Will he talk about what that Government's philosophical commitment was to those at the other end of the spectrum?

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

The previous Government greatly expanded the budget for special educational needs. Even the current Government, after entering office, were obliged to praise the previous Government's efforts in providing for the 3 per cent. who perform worst in school.

Since the current Government came to power, my constituency of Guildford, and the county of Surrey, has experienced one attack after another on our education standards. Our local education authority has one of the United Kingdom's best results in literary standards in primary schools. Nevertheless, our assisted places scheme—the subject was dealt with by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South—has been attacked. In abolishing the scheme, the Government essentially came into my town of Guildford and closed one of our best secondary schools. Overnight, almost 400 places of outstanding worth for local children were abolished.

It is true that, year after year, there has been an increase in Surrey's standard spending assessment, but the increases have come with a real cut in the cash that is supposed to pay for increased education spending in Surrey. That is the reality of our problem.

The Government's amendment to the Opposition motion claims that the Opposition has no proposals to raise standards". When we proposed a genuine new partnership in Surrey between the independent and state sectors, initially, the Minister for School Standards praised it as a great advance and the type of scheme that she would like to be implemented across the country. Subsequently, however, her boss saw the small print. At the last minute, he whipped out an extra provision in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to deny us the power to implement that bold Conservative initiative, at least until the introduction of regulations telling us how the Government thought we should implement it. That is exactly what the debate is all about.

A year after the Secretary of State's damning act pre-empting an initiative that would have built bridges between the independent and state sectors, no regulations for such initiatives have been proposed. Why have no such proposals been made? Why will such proposals, even consultative ones, not be made for another month or two? Why are the Government delaying making such proposals? Is the only reason for delay the fact that such proposals would be based on a bold Conservative initiative that would build bridges between the private and the state sectors? Conservative Members fervently believe that building such bridges is one of the ways in which we will raise education standards in the United Kingdom.

Conservative-controlled Surrey has, however, proposed one other initiative. So far, the Minister for School Standards has endorsed it, and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has not seen fit to shout it down. Month after month, however, there has been only a wall of silence from the Department for Education and Employment when we have sought its guidance and advice on how we should proceed with the initiative.

Under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, the Secretary of State takes so much power from LEAs. Although Surrey's initiative had to be approved by him, he remained absolutely silent when we asked him to do so. That is characteristic of the burdens placed on counties such as Surrey. Other than the odd statement of political play—such as the one at last year's Labour party conference, when the Secretary of State said that, if he did not like what we were doing, he would step into Guildford and take over running our schools, and other such nonsense; I had to explain to him that that would be against the law, even under the 1998 Act—we have received no guidance on the initiative.

Conservative Members, who want diversity in education, have a real problem. We believe that a broad range of educational talent is available, and that diversity will harness that talent. Diversity cannot be characterised by the uniformity and dead hand of the Secretary of State. An inquiry by the Select Committee on Education and Employment into highly able children described, for example, how the literacy hour is turning off the most able children because it is far too boring for them. It is destroying their education standards, which are just as important as the education standards of other children in the class.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

There is also the issue of imposing on schools something which might not suit their requirements. I can tell my hon. Friend about the experience of my son who came home from school explaining that the vicar would no longer be visiting the school because the literacy hour had left no time. That is a matter for schools and parents to decide, not Ministers.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. With all these initiatives the Government are creating an artificial world for education in this country. Teachers, heads and schools are being given artificial targets that do not answer the real individual needs of the children for whom they are responsible. For example—we warned the Government that this would happen—in the first year of this Government and the new initiative for smaller classes in the first three years of primary school, the number of children in classes of over 40 in primary schools in Britain has doubled. Before the Government took office, the figure was on a downward trend. If the Government create an artificial target which says that half the school must have smaller classes, the inevitable consequence of trying to find the teachers necessary for that, other class sizes have to go up.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

I will give way in a moment.

Another example is the spring revision classes for year 6. It is an £18 million scheme, and teachers up and down the country have been complaining that it is a great waste of time. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) will forgive me if I use an example from his constituency. In connection with the extra classes for year 6, the head of Belvidere primary school near Shrewsbury said: Although I would not wish to miss out on any extra funding, I am seriously concerned that this is far more to do with massaging key stage 2 SATs scores at a national level, than raising standards in levels of achievement. I could not put it better myself, but I will give the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) an opportunity to do so.

Photo of Dr George Turner Dr George Turner Labour, North West Norfolk

When £56 million is provided for extra teachers, I am trying to understand the logic of it being inevitable that a reduction in class sizes implies a doubling elsewhere. It sounds like Conservative logic to me—having to cut class sizes without any extra money to do so. The Government have committed themselves to providing the necessary funding to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. Why is a doubling in class sizes elsewhere inevitable?

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

I know that a former Education Minister could not even master the seven times table, but it is obvious that, if there is a limited number of teachers—we know that there is a problem of teacher supply about which the Government were warned at the outset of their term of office—there will be a problem. Those teachers have to come from somewhere. The strains in the system are showing by the fact that the number of classes with more than 40 pupils has doubled. That is the scandal of the Government's record in their first year in office.

King's Manor school in my constituency is the first school in the country to have been contracted out to the private sector. It was a great achievement for Conservative-run Surrey education authority. It has won the support of the Minister for School Standards and the chief inspector. Let me say why it is such a significant move.

We have seen schools in difficulty turned around before by good or even great head teachers. What is so difficult, even in those cases, is to institutionalise the change in the school. Schools fail because of a whole range of pressures and it needs more than one charismatic individual to solve the problem in the long term. By bringing in a new agency to provide new dynamism and purpose to the school in Guildford, I believe that we may have discovered a structure by which we can improve many of the failing schools up and down the country. In the second round of inspections, Ofsted has found too many schools that have not improved since their previous inspection. If we can get round the bureaucratic burdens that we keep getting from the Government, Conservative ideas will solve the problems.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch 8:50 pm, 2nd March 1999

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate, although I am disappointed by the Tory motion, which displays a narrow, negative and carping approach to education policy. We heard no positive proposals for action on standards from the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts). The Conservatives are more interested in weighing pieces of paper than in making positive proposals for improving what happens in classrooms and creating opportunities for our children. We have heard no recognition of the fact that 18 years of Conservative Government left our education system underfunded, with teachers demoralised and children having been failed.

The Opposition still believe that the only way to improve standards is by imposing a crude, laissez-faire market model of competition on the education system, so ably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) as mad market chaos. In the Tory world, parents are consumers, schools are production units and children, presumably, are products. Have the Conservatives not yet learned that setting school against school does not raise standards?

We have also heard that the Conservatives did not even pursue the logic of that policy, as they distorted their view with the imposition of a dogmatic, overcrowded and inflexible national curriculum in 1988, despite the pleas of teachers and academics, whom they now claim to care so much about. The Conservative years were characterised by a combination of the irresponsible imposition of market forces on schools, and the centralising dogma of their national curriculum.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

Could the hon. Lady be more interesting?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We cannot have an extraneous conversation between the Whip on Government Front Bench and an Opposition Back Bencher while an hon. Member has the Floor.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch

Where was the incentive in the Conservative years for schools to share best practice? Why should schools have worked together to promote higher standards in the culture that was promulgated by the Conservatives? We could hope that the Conservatives had learned the lesson of those years, but unfortunately they have not. We have the evidence of that. Our Whip was not handing round Labour party propaganda, but was giving us the benefit of the Conservative party brief on education—a single and rather flimsy sheet of paper which, under the heading "Points to make", says that Conservatives believe in raising standards through choice. That is the only proposal for raising standards. What does it mean? How will it work? There is no answer.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch

Perhaps we shall hear some ideas.

Photo of Christopher Fraser Christopher Fraser Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

Unlike Labour Members, we are free thinkers and we do not need aids to put our ideas together.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch

That brief is not an aid, it is the Conservative party position on education.

I am being unfair. Three more policies are outlined in the Conservative document: first, they do not like our class size policy; secondly, they do not like the literacy hour; and thirdly, they like grammar schools. That is hardly a comprehensive approach to raising standards and putting right the damage that their Government did.

As an ex-teacher and a current member of the National Union of Teachers, I am concerned about the bureaucratic burdens placed on teachers. I welcome the recent NUT survey on those bureaucratic burdens. If, however, the Conservatives wanted to enlist support for their case from the NUT, they would be disappointed because, unlike them, the NUT and teachers can see a clear distinction in the uses to which Government paperwork and activities are put.

The NUT press release says: Teachers draw a clear distinction between activities which promote high-quality teaching and learning and bureaucratic tasks which undermine it. Teachers were asked to list the bureaucratic tasks that they felt were unhelpful. The list includes copying out lists, copy typing, collecting money, unnecessary preparation for Ofsted, bulk photocopying, analysing attendance registers and a variety of other tasks. Only one of the tasks listed did not develop under the previous Government. The bureaucratic burdens on teachers were imposed by the Conservative Government.

The one task on the list that I think should not be there—although I did not have any experience of it—is the auditing of standard fund spending. I have to disagree with my erstwhile colleagues in the NUT, because I wish that, in my 11 years of teaching under a Conservative Government, I had had the opportunity to audit extra spending, as opposed to spending my time wondering where money for improving standards was to come from.

I welcome the fact that the Government have addressed the real concerns through the bureaucracy working party, which issued guidance in May 1998 that was welcomed by teaching unions. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the Government have followed the working party's advice and changed the way in which mailings are sent out. If teachers are still doing too many bureaucratic tasks, that is a matter of how schools are being managed and how resources are being used locally.

Photo of Christopher Fraser Christopher Fraser Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

Does the hon. Lady agree that it is better to spend money closer to the pupil, taking away a lot of the bureaucracy in local education authorities? Does she agree that there should be choice and the opportunity for all parents to participate in how their children are educated, or does she think, conversely, that everyone should have the same and that we should do down the system rather than bringing it up?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch

There are several questions involved there, and I will certainly touch on those issues later on. Money is indeed important, which is why I condemned the underfunding under the previous Government, and why I think the present Government are right to have considered, in the fair funding proposals, how to get money down to schools and ensure that it is spent there.

One of the problems identified by the NUT was too many lunchtime meetings. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team are powerful and important but they cannot be held responsible if school management results in too many lunchtime meetings. Perhaps that highlights the need for training for headship, to make heads better able to manage both staff and resources—we know that the Government are delivering that—and the importance of the Green Paper.

The Green Paper is not only about pay, although it is worth noting that it will give many teachers a larger pay rise than I ever had in my teaching career and offer them the potential to earn more and stay in the classroom, raising standards for children. Bearing in mind the criticisms offered by the Conservative opportunists—I meant Opposition, but perhaps I was right the first time—it is worth asking whether Conservative Front Benchers are opposed to increased pay for teachers and, if not, how they would institute such increases.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

The hon. Lady has at last got round to discussing Government policy—the subject of the debate. Could she answer some questions that have been posed on the Green Paper by a senior head teacher in my constituency? He said that the amount of paperwork would be greatly increased if the proposed appraisal scheme went through. He asked who would do the appraisal, and how time would be spent by key managers in the school. He added that there was a huge assumption that that scheme would happen without the adequate provision of extra resources. Could she kindly answer those questions?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch

I am pleased that the Government are undertaking exactly the sort of technical consultation that is necessary to address those issues. Is the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) arguing that we should not find the resources to increase teachers' pay? Is he arguing against his own party's manifesto, which said that the Conservatives believed that appraisal should be tightened on teachers and should focus solely on pupils' performance and results? That is what the Conservatives were arguing before the election.

The Green Paper is important because it will enable teachers to take a radical look at how they work. Are they working in a way that will raise standards? How will they work with the 20,000 new classroom assistants to be funded by the Government? How will they raise standards in the classroom? How will they improve their sense of professionalism? I welcome the opportunity given by the Green Paper to enable teachers to address those questions. This is a real, funded opportunity to review the role of teachers, and to refocus their efforts on what matters most—learning and teaching in the classroom.

I wish to refer to the literacy hour. I notice from the NUT survey that teachers—unlike the Conservative party—do not see the literacy hour as a burden. As a constituency Member of Parliament and a mother, I have had experience of the literacy hour on my visits to many schools in my constituency. I must tell the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne)—who has now left the Chamber—that my son's school managed not only to include that literacy hour, but to arrange to see the local vicar and to go to the local church. That is good news.

Schools, teachers and parents welcome the emphasis on raising standards, the sharing of best practice, the funding made available by the Government and the training of co-ordinators and staff.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch

No, I will not, because I want other Opposition Members to have a chance to speak.

Will the Conservatives come clean? Do they intend to scrap the literacy hour? Will they follow the advice of the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and impose a further Tory education cut—introducing, perhaps, the literacy half-hour?

In conclusion, the Opposition have carped and criticised. They have failed to support the Government's action to raise standards, or our plans to increase the sense of professionalism and pay among teachers. They have failed to support the extra £19 billion of spending for education. I must tell Conservative Members that the biggest burden that I had placed on me in my 11 years as a teacher was my inability to find the resources to do the job properly. Those Members have failed to support our schools. In government, they failed our schools and our children. In opposition, they are still doing so.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove 9:04 pm, 2nd March 1999

I am particularly grateful to be called at this juncture because I represent the neighbouring seat to that of the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), and, therefore, we share an interest in a number of school issues. Much of her speech was irrelevant, in that she discussed the past—from a partisan viewpoint—and the previous Government's excellent performance in education. She had precious little to say about the present Government's performance in education. However, her remark that her biggest burden as a teacher was financing was germane. Although the arrangement has changed on the Government Front Bench, the hon. Lady had an opportunity to speak to the Under-Secretary of State the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) about the financing of Worcestershire schools and the problems faced by teachers and head teachers in Worcestershire schools with regard to the financing of our schools.

At the end of last year the Government conducted a review of the standard spending assessment and central Government financing of schools and local government. The hon. Lady kindly arranged a meeting with the Under-Secretary—Labour Members have access to Ministers—so that we could listen—

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

It may not be important to the hon. Gentleman, but to us in Worcestershire, it is extremely important. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary back in his place.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

We had a meeting with the Minister about the funding of Worcestershire schools. It is extraordinary that during her speech the hon. Lady did not mention that despite the sympathetic hearing that the Labour leader of Worcestershire council received from the Minister, and despite the fact that the meeting was attended by teachers from various constituencies, we did not get a single extra penny out of the Government when the SSA was changed. Worcestershire schools should get greater priority.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

I accept that under the Conservative Government, Tory Members tried to change the education grant. The difference is that when the hon. Gentleman's Government came to power, they pretended that everything would be different. They duly set up the review, and it changed nothing about the financial position of Worcestershire schools. They are still underfunded. They are in the lowest 10 per cent. for funding throughout the nation.

I am astonished that the hon. Member for Redditch did not mention that when she had the ear of the Minister and the opportunity to plead for all our schools, whether in Redditch or in Bromsgrove. If I may say so, she should be ashamed of herself.

The problem of financing is the greatest issue that schools in Worcestershire face, and the Government have done nothing about it. They are producing other burdens on our schools that are causing great concern. I recently visited Meadow Green primary school, where there is great concern about the effect of the changes to the local management of schools brought about in the Education (Schools) Act 1997. The school had not been told about the kind of repairs for which it will be responsible, the level of the budget that will be devolved from the local authority—a Labour-controlled local authority—for repairs and maintenance, and how much the capital spending programme will be as a proportion of the budget.

There is great concern at many of my schools. I was called to an emergency meeting of the governors because they are so worried. They want to do their best for their school and for the community. The Government have instituted changes that are still unclear. The changes take effect in April, but the schools do not know how they will be affected by the new arrangements.

I should tell the Ministers—there are now two on the Front Bench—that schools in Worcestershire are deeply unimpressed by the so-called new deal for schools. Schools in Worcestershire have not seen any of that money. [Interruption.] If the Minister will write to me, I shall be keen to hear what schools in Bromsgrove have got from the new deal. [Interruption.] Labour Members may scream and shout as much as they like.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. No they may not. It would be helpful to the House if the hon. Lady could be heard against a rather quieter background.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The simple fact is that schools in Bromsgrove believe that the Government's new deal applies only to other schools. Money goes to seriously dilapidated schools that have been run for so long by Labour-controlled local authorities that they are in such a state of disrepair as to be eligible for the money.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South

I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady. Have the schools in Bromsgrove entered the Bermuda triangle of Government funding only in the last 18 months, or were they also there during the previous 18 years?

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

The hon. Gentleman has not listened to what I have said. I am talking about the new deal, and he may wish to know that it is part of the Labour Government's policy. Money is announced, re-announced and then announced again. They tell us that they are spending megabucks on our schools, but none of my schools is even aware of the existence of that money because they are not receiving what they want. That happened under the hon. Gentleman's Government, not during the previous 18 years.

I shall conclude on class sizes to allow other hon. Members time to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) made a fascinating and telling point about what has happened to the pledge on class sizes. The number of classes in which there are more than 40 children has doubled. The impression I receive from my schools is that the pressure points are merely being moved around. Schools are legally obliged to make progress on five, six and seven-year-olds, and much progress is therefore being made. Meanwhile, older children are in larger classes so that the schools can fund the smaller ones, a situation that testifies to the point made by my hon. Friend.

On the whole, it is better to have lower class sizes so that more individual attention can be given to children. However, there is a question of balance. There may, as the Conservatives have said, be occasions on which a classroom support teacher may be more effective than alternative methods.

Despite the underfunding provided to Bromsgrove by the new Labour Government, we are lucky to have excellent schools that produce excellent results. The hon. Member for Redditch may shake her head at that: her Labour-controlled county council has tried to close two of my excellent schools. Thank goodness we stopped that.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch

I am pleased to hear the hon. Lady congratulate her schools. Will she take this opportunity to withdraw her comments in my local newspaper criticising teachers and children in Redditch schools, and condemning their low standards? Her remarks were upsetting to my constituents, and several people have contacted me about what she said.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

The hon. Lady misquotes what I said. The incident to which she refers was the programme for closures in Redditch schools. Sadly, some of my schools are drawn into the Redditch orbit, and the Labour-controlled county council decided to seek to close Beoley first school and Tardebigge Church aided school, excellent rural schools to which her Government are meant to be committed. Other schools in Redditch were not earmarked for closure although their results were not as good as those in my schools.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

I have answered the hon. Lady, so she might as well sit down. She has had her moment in which to make her point, and she completely misquoted what I said. It is a matter of record in the local newspaper, and I stand by what I have said today as it is the same as what I said to the local newspaper.

I have excellent schools in my constituency, and some of the very good ones are in Hagley. However happy one may be in principle about the reduction in class sizes and the 30-pupil limit, I have a prediction to make, for the benefit of Labour Members and the Ministers: I now see a steady flow of extremely irate parents who would kill to get their children into some of my first schools, but whose children are now being deprived of the chance to go to those first schools because of the arbitrary limits set by the Labour Government; and I fear that that trickle will become a great flow. Despite the Government's good intentions—perhaps I am being generous—setting a limit of 30 pupils in certain classes is not necessarily the right way forward. Many of my constituents will strongly oppose that limit when it becomes a strict rule in a few years time.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling 9:15 pm, 2nd March 1999

Much of my teaching career took place during the years of Conservative Government. Those years brought constant upheaval, massive new burdens and policies such as the expansion of the assisted places scheme and grant-maintained schools, many of which were given benefits not available to other schools to encourage them to opt out. Those years also witnessed declining pupil behaviour, despite huge increases in expulsions, and poor standards. After 18 years of Conservative Government, half of all our 11-year-olds failed to reach the levels expected for their age in maths and English; and one in 12 pupils failed to achieve one GCSE at the end of their school career.

A burden greater than all of those has already been mentioned by some of my hon. Friends—unbridled competition, which, rather than supporting individual school improvement, was the driving force behind the Conservative Government's programme. The Tory belief was that the education system could be treated as a market: if raw statistics were published and free parental choice allowed, good schools would expand and poor schools close. In reality, schools had the burden of back-door selection and two-tier comprehensive education.

That led to teachers who were struggling with pupils with special needs being undervalued, and feeling undervalued. It led to schools that were trying to cope with pupils who had difficult emotional and behavioural problems being labelled as bad schools. The way in which the Conservative Government pursued their policies created the biggest burdens that could be imposed on any school: the feeling that, unless pupils achieved high academic excellence, the school had failed, and so had the teachers.

Initiative after initiative came into schools, but they were all driven by a philosophical thrust that fundamentally misunderstood the dynamics of school improvement and the real meaning of raising standards for all pupils, and not only those at a particular level. Against that background, the Labour Government are trying to raise standards for all children, increase achievement in all schools and remotivate the teaching profession, while rebuilding the fabric of the schools within which children are taught.

Our policies are motivated by a belief in the comprehensive principle. It is time to restate our commitment to the comprehensive principle: it might need modernising and changing, but that principle offers more children the opportunity to make the best of their ability than any of the alternative systems on offer. Through support and encouragement as well as stricture and demand, we shall move forward and improve our schools. That will require new initiatives and make new demands on schools, but we shall act sensibly and constructively to raise the achievements of all the pupils in our schools.

The numeracy and literacy projects have been well supported, with a wide range of materials and training available. The national curriculum for primary schools has been made more flexible, thus reducing the burden on schools and enabling them to implement the national numeracy and literacy strategies. The Tories complain about the burden that the numeracy and literacy strategies place on schools. From my experience, there is no bigger burden on schools than having large numbers of pupils who cannot read or write.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

I am sorry, but there is not enough time. Other hon. Members wish to make their own contributions.

If children cannot master basic skills at an early age, the consequences follow them through their school years and fundamentally affect their life chances. Does the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) really oppose strategies that address such problems?

I also commend the initiative with respect to 14 and 16-year-olds, which has not been mentioned in great detail tonight. Pupils of that age are often the most difficult in schools. Greater flexibility in that part of the curriculum to provide more work-based and work-related learning for pupils, in co-operation and liaison with local further education colleges, should lead to a reduction in truancy. Not only will those pupils benefit from that education entitlement, but other pupils whose education is often adversely affected by the disaffection of the first group will be taught in a better environment.

I turn to other aspects of the proposals before us today, particularly attitudes to the teaching profession. I know many teachers in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, many of whom are my former colleagues and friends. Everyone accepts that the majority of teachers work extremely hard and do their best in often difficult circumstances. However, that is no reason for not making changes for the better.

When I was teaching, we would always ask, "Why are teachers promoted only when they take on some sort of management function?" Why can teachers not stay in the classroom, be promoted and receive better pay just because they are good teachers? That is one of the great tragedies of the current pay structure: if teachers who are good in the classroom want to advance, they must be promoted out of the classroom. Consultation is under way at the moment in an effort to address that pay structure problem.

Another issue is particularly demoralising to teachers: we must ensure that teachers are allowed to teach in the classroom. I believe that some of the problems in our schools have nothing to do with pay or any of the other issues that we often discuss. I think that teachers are often frustrated because they cannot teach. People enter the teaching profession because they wish to pass on an excitement about history, a joy of music or an appreciation of the beauty of poetry or art. However, the problems that young people bring into the classroom often prevent teachers from teaching. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench are pursuing constructive initiatives in an attempt to improve behaviour in schools. That is a fundamental move.

If we could tackle that problem, we would remotivate teachers, because they want to teach. Many of the schools in which I have taught—I do not mean to be disrespectful to them, and I am sure that many hon. Members will understand this point—have operated as social hospitals. Schools are often the only places where there is any stability in communities. We must recognise the work of schools and recognise and value the work of teachers. If that happens, some of the other problems will disappear.

It is my fundamental belief that the issue is not one of pay, but of teachers wanting to be able to teach and feeling that they are valued for doing so. If we achieve that, we will raise standards and be able to change the structures in schools. I therefore welcome many of the initiatives—which the hon. Member for Havant would call burdens—to try to establish the behaviour plans and home-school contracts that are so essential in raising standards in schools and remotivating our teaching force.

I shall be brief so that other hon. Members will, hopefully, have an opportunity to speak. The Government's initiatives are not burdens. They will tackle education in an attempt to raise standards for all pupils. The previous Conservative Government's education policy failed because their philosophical thrust was to try to benefit those at the top and abandon the rest. Some schools and their teachers were regarded as good, and the rest were abandoned. The Government have to deal with that legacy and work within its limits.

There is cynicism about the motives behind the Government's reforms, but they are to raise standards in schools for all pupils; to restore and improve teacher morale; to value all our pupils, whatever their circumstances, and to improve the achievement of every pupil in every school in the land, irrespective of where they live, their parents and other associated factors. If we get that right, we will have proved ourselves to be a truly radical Government—as I believe we shall be—who are determined to make tough choices and face a rough ride in the short term to achieve the long-term goal of re-establishing the principles that I have mentioned and developing an education system that offers opportunity to all pupils, not just a few.

Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 9:27 pm, 2nd March 1999

Conservative Members have not raised a party political or general political matter. We are repeating what the people in schools in our constituencies are saying to us. I have been visiting schools in West Sussex for the past three years and, in the past six months, I have been overwhelmed by complaints from heads and teachers, many of whom are not our political supporters, about the excessive burden of paperwork. Labour Members seem to be particularly touchy about us discussing practical rather than doctrinaire problems.

There is a growing gap between propaganda and reality. In my part of the world, schools are having to sack teachers because the overall effect of the massive cut in standard spending assessment money means that there is no extra money for schools. The gap between expectancy and reality is enormous.

I want particularly to deal with class sizes because schools in my constituency typically serve communities, and their intake numbers vary by between 40 and 60 pupils each year. Schools have managed by having two classes of about 30 or one class of 40 with an assistant. Heads have expressed bitter criticism about the fact that they are now faced with having too much mixed-age teaching or simply refusing to take pupils in years in which they have a large intake. Other schools are often eight or 10 miles away and it is a nightmare for parents to transport their children to a different school, so schools feel obliged to serve their communities. For schools of that size, a mandatory class size of 30 does not work; it creates more problems than it solves.

The Government should listen to what heads and teachers are saying. It is no good saying, "We are jolly well going to throw all these consultative documents and instructions at you, and they will make you better teachers in better schools, come what may." I suggest, gently, that that is not happening. Teachers need to be motivated; pay is not the problem. They need to be able to get on with running their schools well, and not be overburdened with excessive rigidity and paperwork.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 9:30 pm, 2nd March 1999

I am pleased to be winding up this important and interesting debate, in which several of my hon. Friends have made excellent speeches. One of the most noticeable features of the speeches by Labour Members was the reluctance to defend the Government's record. They wanted to talk about the past, not the present, under their Government.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) has pointed out, we see a gap between the Government's propaganda and what is happening in schools. Sadly, there is a lack of understanding among Government Front Benchers—and Government Back Benchers—of what is happening as a result of their policy. As my hon. Friend has said, the points that we are raising are the same ones that teachers and head teachers raise when we visit schools. They are upset, concerned and worried about the burdens that are being put on them and the level of bureaucracy with which they are having to cope under this Government. They are especially concerned because, frankly, they had not expected that from this Government. In future, they will not believe the promises and pledges that Labour makes on the doorstep.

We have exchanged statistics in this debate. Indeed, I might very well quote a few in a minute. The debate is important not just because it is about bureaucracy and paperwork, but because it is about what happens in the education of children in the classroom; about educational standards, and how we raise them; and about how the Government's multiplicity of so-called initiatives is tying down teachers and schools, reducing diversity and choice and taking teachers away from the job of improving standards. Whenever I meet teachers I hear cries to cut the bureaucracy to let us do our jobs.We want to make sure that teachers spend their time teaching and not in unnecessary bureaucracy.Teachers should be free to teach not slaves to paperwork.Raising standards and reducing unnecessary paperwork in schools to allow teachers to teach are issues that go hand in hand.Teachers should be able to concentrate on pupils' work, not paperwork. One might think that those quotations were from speeches of my hon. Friends in this debate, or perhaps even of disgruntled governors or disaffected teachers. Surprising though it may seem, given the nature and tone of the speech of the Minister for School Standards, who seemed reluctant to accept that there was any problem about bureaucracy in schools, every one of those quotations was from a Minister, as an initiative to cut bureaucracy and red tape in our schools was launched and relaunched.

What initiative did the Government take to cut red tape? They set up a working party, conducted a review, came up with a report, and followed it with a Department for Education and Employment circular. Following the working party's report a year ago, what did the Government say? They said that they would make every effort to ensure that the report's recommendations bore fruit. What action were they going to take? They were going to set up another division in the DfEE. This must be the only Government whose response to cutting bureaucracy is to employ more bureaucrats.

What has happened since the report was issued in January 1998? Three months and 59 guidance notes, directives, surveys and other documents later, the Government announced another relaunch. Two months and 48 guidance notes, directives, surveys and other documents later, the Government announced another relaunch. One month and 21 guidance notes, directives, surveys and other documents later, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), stood up at a local education authority conference in Torquay and pledged his personal crusade to cut bureaucracy. What happened in the following six months? One hundred and ninety-four guidance notes, directives, surveys and other documents.

It would be farcical if it were not so important, because this is not just about the numbers of Government documents; it is about the fact that, the more time is taken by teachers to deal with the paperwork, the less time they have to educate children and to improve standards in the classroom.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker)—teachers want to teach. That is why we raised this issue tonight. Teachers do not want to be stuck looking at paperwork, dealing with forms and reports and reading endless directives and guidelines from the Government.

The Minister for School Standards said that everything was all right because, in September 1998, the Government had decided that they would approach things differently on bureaucracy. She said that, since last September, it was all perfectly all right and there were no problems. I see the Minister shake her head, but she told us that, since last September, the bureaucracy had actually reduced. Perhaps she needs to read the survey commissioned last month by the NAT/UWT and conducted by the Electoral Reform Society, which showed that the situation had not changed in 60 per cent. of schools, and had got worse in a quarter of schools.

It is little wonder that, today, the general secretary of the NAS/UWT issued a press release headed, "Bureaucracy Bugs Teachers. Workload Worries Remain". It says: The Government is addicted to one initiative after another. The need to provide booster classes and after-hours support for children to meet ambitious Government targets recently added to the excessive workload being placed upon teachers. Individual, school, LEA and National Targets are raining down in their thousands upon teachers. Mismanagement of the Literacy Hour has not helped and the forthcoming numeracy strategy is awaited with trepidation by many primary teachers.The Government will have to get a grip on this problem, otherwise its bureaucratic proposals for appraisal and management performance, outlined in the recently published Green Paper, will cause the education system to sink under its own weight.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Labour, Welwyn Hatfield

First, I should like to challenge your idea that ambition is something—

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Labour, Welwyn Hatfield

I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to challenge the hon. Lady's ideas about our ambitions for the education service. Does she not share those ambitions, and does she not believe that ambition for the future of our schools and the education of our children has a right and proper place? Does her memory not extend back to where mine does—I am sure that it does, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and remember things like the pantechnicons that arrived delivering national curriculum documents, full of unnecessary prescription, to schools throughout the country, at a time when legislation rained down upon the education service year after year? Does her memory not go back—

Mr.Deputy Speaker:

Order. The hon. Lady has gone far beyond what she would normally be allowed.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

After that intervention, Lady has no ambitions in the House. The answer is that we believe in raising educational standards. We are debating the subject tonight because what the Government are doing is not raising standards in education, but mitigating against improving standards in education.

I suggest that the hon. Lady listens to the teachers' views. I quote some comments that were made during the survey commissioned by the NAS/UWT, conducted last month, in which teachers were asked, What are the problems associated with workload which still need to be addressed at your workplace? Some answers were: There are too many bits of paperwork. What we are supposed to be doing is educating children.I would think that the main thing is a lot of extra paperwork. Multiple copies of planning sheets and assessments are time consuming, as is the admin for literacy hour.Initiatives to try and raise achievement are causing an increase in workload, for example targeting.There are not enough hours in the day to get through everything. You can't teach and do paperwork at the same time—one has to suffer and it's usually the teaching.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does my hon. Friend recognise that, on school visit after school visit, I have been told by head teachers and chairmen of governors in my constituency that the one thing that they pray for is that the Government will stop burying them in paper? My hon. Friend has met head teachers in my constituency. Does she agree that that is one thing that heads and other teachers are telling the Government?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent intervention. He is right. He shows how much closer Conservative Members are to understanding what teachers and head teachers say about the work load introduced by the Government than are Ministers and Labour Members. As he said, it is precisely because teachers and head teachers complain about the work load that we have chosen to debate the matter today.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

No, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) made rather a long intervention.

It is not just teachers and head teachers who are complaining about the work load and paperwork. Labour Members of Parliament are also doing so. In an Adjournment debate on 11 January, the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor), who was in his place earlier today, referring to schools that he had visited in his constituency, said: The chairs of governors of the schools … often said that they were drowning in a sea of paper … The continuing inflow of documents for the attention of chairs and members of governing bodies is reaching alarming proportions".—[Official Report, 11 January 1999; Vol. 323, c. 76–77.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should discuss that with the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith) who, in an extraordinary contribution to the debate, said that it was all the fault of teachers and nothing whatever to do with the Government.

I want to touch on four particular burdens impacting on schools. One is the bidding process, the problems of which were ably described by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). The Government's obsession with targets, as shown in one of the comments that I have just quoted, is another problem impacting on schools. I welcome the Minister's statement that her entire Front-Bench team will resign if the literacy and numeracy targets are not reached by 2010. [Interruption.]She obviously has not told all her hon. Friends of that intention. The Minister with responsibility for higher education might be a little worried because standards are falling and the targets are even further from being reached than they were when the Secretary of State first said that he would offer his resignation.

A lot has been said about the literacy hour, which is placing real burdens on teachers. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) claimed that the Government would not intervene where schools were achieving and raising standards, but the point about the literacy hour is that the Government are intervening regardless of the standards that are being achieved by schools. The hon. Gentleman said that the Government were enabling and empowering, but, in the literacy hour, they are directing.

A primary school teacher in the north of England said: I feel like an NQT in minute one of my career, not a seasoned professional who has ridden every merry-go-round that has been introduced and got off them again. All the things that have worked for me, the experience built up over those 25 years in the primary classroom have been replaced by a strategy that is too bulky to deliver, too onerous to plan and that has a 'knock-on' effect for the use of teaching areas, hall, quiet rooms etc … We know the stress that we feel and how we dread the job we once enjoyed, but no-one asks us or listens to us. We also know that when it fails it will be our fault. We dare not contemplate the Numeracy Hour. As our area secretary said, 'This is the stuff nervous breakdowns are made of.— That is the teachers' reaction to the Government's imposition of the prescriptive literacy hour.

For the future, we have performance-related pay, with its cumbersome, unwieldy and bureaucratic proposals. The NAHT has calculated that, in the first year, the administration of the system will cost £250 million before a single pound has reached the pocket of a single teacher. It will create a two-tier teaching profession. It was sold on the basis that teachers would be rewarded for good performance but, as the Minister for School Standards made clear in Essex at the launch of the Green Paper, she did not think it right to pay people extra "for just teaching". This is not about giving teachers money for good performance; it is about requiring them to take on extra responsibilities and new contracts.

The NAS/UWT says that performance-related pay is woefully unmanageable and monstrously bureaucratic. Linda McMillan, a deputy head from Blackpool, said: They stood there asking us how we could make something unworkable work. The Government are inundating schools, teachers and governors with directives, diktats, guidance notes, information notes and paper after paper. The Government should rethink the timing of their teachers' pay proposals. They need to reconsider what they are doing, and ensure that they introduce compliance cost assessments for every directive, piece of paper and regulation that goes out from the Department for Education and Employment.

The Government went to the electorate promising that things can only get better. They did not say that they will get better if we are lucky. They did not say that they will get better after a few years. They did not say, "We'll try to make them better, but they might get worse." They promised that they could only get better. Teachers snowed under with bureaucracy do not think that things are better. Teachers whose professionalism is taken away by Government diktat do not think they are better. Parents who see standards falling do not think they are better. The Government should stop lecturing teachers and should stop trying to grab the headlines. It is time they gave schools a break. Let teachers teach: our children deserve it.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment 9:46 pm, 2nd March 1999

It is extraordinary that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made that speech without any mention of parents, employers, governors or children. It is clear to me that she is now the teacher unions' friend, as I remarked to her at a National Union of Teachers conference on education action zones. I am not quite sure how well that goes down with her hon. Friends on the Back Benches. The vigour of her speech led me to think, yet again, that she is more than the shadow Secretary of State's third brain. Her one brain adds up to more than his two put together.

I was struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). When pressed, he sought to explain and justify his alliance with the Tories on this significant occasion by reference to two specific points with which he had difficulty: the bidding process, to which the hon. Member for Maidenhead also referred, and the children's Parliament. He could bring nothing else to bear. I am disappointed that he has not associated himself with our drive to raise standards, because I had hoped that the Liberal Democrats would do so.

I was delighted to receive—contrary to what the hon. Member for Maidenhead said—my hon. Friends' strong support for the Government's programme. It ranged from the philosophical run through Mao, Stalin and Hobbes by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), who gave specific and powerful attention to the flimsy Tory document and list, and the excellent intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), which brought us back to standards and achievement and the comprehensive principle.

I was less convinced by the remarks of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) and his appeal for permanent revolution, and by the discourse of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) on the funding system in Worcestershire, although I was flattered that my meeting with her caused her such excitement.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch

In the light of the confusion thrown into the debate by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), would it be helpful if I told my hon. Friend that in the financial year 1998–99 Worcestershire received £1.637 million under the new deal, including money for schemes in Bromsgrove, £3.796 million in a standards fund, and £600,000 towards the national grid for learning, on top of the £2,000 for each school for extra books?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

Now we know who the truly well-informed Member for the county of Worcestershire is.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

No, I shall not give way.

I shall begin the substance of my speech by reference to the common ground between Members on the two Front Benches. It is common ground that we need to reduce the bureaucratic burden in schools.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

No, I shall not give way, because I will not allow the debate on bureaucratic burdens in schools to be hijacked. If the hon. Lady wants to have her discourse, she is welcome to have it.

It is common ground that it is necessary to reduce the quantity of paper going to schools.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Am I right in thinking that, if the Minister mentions another hon. Member—in this instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride)—he should give way to her, so that she can reply to what he has said?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I think the hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to understand that that is not a point of order. It is entirely a matter of convention. It is for the Minister to determine whether to give way.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but the House must come to order. It is entirely up to the Minister whether he gives way. We cannot have a chorus of disapproval and counter-disapproval across the Chamber; we want to hear the end of the debate in an orderly manner.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

I shall say what I was trying to say. It is striking that Opposition Back Benchers should wish to debate funding in Worcestershire, rather than their motion. It is in connection with that motion that I wish to respond to Opposition Members' assertions.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

I have made it clear that I do not intend to give way to the hon. Lady.

I want to focus on the issues that the Opposition have raised—issues to which the Government wish to respond. I have begun by saying that it is common ground that we need to seek to reduce the amount of paper in schools. That is why we set up a working group, produced guidance and established demonstration projects to reduce it further. That is why we have initiated tighter action to reduce the number of documents that are sent out, and have produced guidance on changes in the law.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way.

I would have liked to raise this issue during the debate. It relates specifically to what the Minister just said about reducing the amount of paper. One of the proposals that the Government have trumpeted is the proposal to put all schools on the internet: indeed, that was a manifesto promise. At present, only one in five primary schools is on the internet. When will the Government ensure that their election promise—which has now been delivered to BT and the cable companies in terms of their franchises—is delivered to our schools, so that they can reduce the amount of bureaucracy?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

The hon. Gentleman has been pursuing that in the House, and he has been right to do so. We have set the pledge for 2002, but we hope to fulfil it earlier. We have established a website with all the data, and schools can obtain data directly from the internet. We have launched a series of initiatives to reduce the amount of paper, and we shall proceed with that action.

What I really want to deal with, however, is the charge of opportunism that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch. These are the issues, and this is what our communications are about. First, there is inspection of the Ofsted system; secondly, there is the national curriculum; thirdly, there are the performance tables and data collection; fourthly, there is in-service teacher training; fifthly, there is reform of the teaching profession and teacher training; sixthly, there are local management of schools and their funding; and seventhly, there are special educational needs. On all those issues, the Conservative Government produced legislation, and imposed burdens on schools. In every case, we are reducing those burdens and making progress.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

If the Minister's Government are as busy reducing burdens as he claims, can he explain why the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, Mr. Nigel de Gruchy, has described the Government's proposals for reform of the teaching profession as entirely inappropriate, woefully unmanageable and monstrously bureaucratic?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

Again, I am struck by the increasingly intimate relationship between the ultra-right among the Opposition and the teaching trade unions. Consultation is taking place, and we shall of course listen to every view that is expressed.

On Ofsted inspections, we are lightening the burden where the Tories increased it. On the national curriculum, the Tories went through the Dearing fiasco, while we are reducing the burden. We do not know what the Tories will do, although we heard from the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) that they would scrap the literacy hour. We gather from the Leader of the Opposition that they will scrap the national curriculum altogether. On performance tables, we are reducing the burden.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

Earlier, the Minister for School Standards showed infernal arrogance and breathtaking contempt for one of Shropshire's most distinguished teachers, Grahame Arnold, head teacher at Adams school in Wem. Will the Minister dissociate himself from her comments? Does he agree with Mr. Arnold that local Education Authorities are now employing more staff to deal with the demands of Government legislation which means less teachers in the class room to teach children"?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

The reverse is true. I agreed with what my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards said. She summed up the position clearly. That is the position as it stands.

I continue down the list. On in-service training, it was the Tory Government who brought in Baker days in 1987, although I note that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) now wants to get rid of them. We are reducing the burden.

On the teaching profession overall, it was the Conservative Government who set up the Teacher Training Agency in 1994 and who developed the national curriculum for initial teacher training. It was the Conservative Government who brought performance-related pay into the public sector. It is we who seek to raise the esteem of the profession, to reduce the burden and to raise standards.

On fair funding, it is we who are putting more resources into schools. On special education, the Conservative Government legislated in 1993 and produced a code of practice. It is we who are targeting the real issues.

The issues are straightforward. The so-called burdens that the Opposition claim—[Interruption.] It is interesting that those Conservative Members on the Front Bench do not want to listen. That is a characteristic of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), the Northern Ireland spokesman. It shows what disqualifies him from his shadow role—he has no listening quality whatever.

We are reducing the burdens. We will continue to reduce them. The reason why we will continue—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) must seek loudly to make an intervention. If he is refused, he must sit down.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment


Our drive was, is and will continue to be to raise standards for children in our schools. We will do what we have to do to achieve that. We will carry through our policy of lightening the burden to allow teachers to teach and to work more effectively.

By the opportunist step of tabling the motion, the Conservative party has turned its back on the target of raising school standards. It is focused on the wrong target. It has truly become the party of reaction and no change.

The times call for change. Our children are growing up in a world of rapid social and economic change. Schools have to equip children to master that change. Schools and teachers are there to help children. We are there to help schools and teachers to do that.

I am sorry that the Tories are sticking their head in the sand and turning their back on the process. The true burden on schools over 18 years was the Conservative Government. The electorate removed that burden in May 1997. The burden of the Tory Government having been removed, the present Government are determined on a course of reducing burdens still further and raising standards for all still further. I believe and hope that the Liberal Democrats will reconsider their opportunistic stance and decide that they will commit themselves to what we are doing. I hope and believe—

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 172, Noes 334.

Division No. 84][9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Collins, Tim
Allan, RichardColvin, Michael
Amess, DavidCormack, Sir Patrick
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelCran, James
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesCurry, Rt Hon David
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyDafis, Cynog
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Ballard, JackieDavis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Beggs, RoyDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Beith, Rt Hon A JDuncan, Alan
Bercow, JohnDuncan Smith, Iain
Blunt, CrispinEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Body, Sir RichardEvans, Nigel
Boswell, TimEwing, Mrs Margaret
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Faber, David
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaFabricant, Michael
Brady, GrahamFallon, Michael
Brazier, JulianFeam, Ronnie
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterFlight, Howard
Browning, Mrs AngelaForth, Rt Hon Eric
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Foster, Don (Bath)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Burnett, JohnFraser, Christopher
Burstow, PaulGale, Roger
Butterfill, JohnGarnier, Edward
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Gibb, Nick
Cash, WilliamGill, Christopher
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Chidgey, DavidGorman, Mrs Teresa
Chope, ChristopherGray, James
Clappison, JamesGreen, Damian
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Grieve, Dominic
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Gummer, Rt Hon John
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, PhilipRandall, John
Harris, Dr EvanRedwood, Rt Hon John
Harvey, NickRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Hawkins, NickRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Heald, OliverRoss, William (E Lond'y)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Ruffley, David
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon DavidRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasSt Aubyn, Nick
Horam, JohnSanders, Adrian
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Hunter, AndrewSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelSoames, Nicholas
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Spring, Richard
Jenkin, BernardStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Steen, Anthony
Key, RobertStreeter, Gary
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Swayne, Desmond
Kirkbride, Miss JulieSyms, Robert
Kirkwood, ArchyTapsell, Sir Peter
Lait, Mrs JacquiTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lansley, AndrewTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Leigh, EdwardTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Taylor, Sir Teddy
Lidington, DavidThompson, William
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterTownend, John
Livsey, RichardTredinnick, David
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Trend, Michael
Llwyd, ElfynTyler, Paul
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTyrie, Andrew
MacKay, Rt Hon AndrewViggers, Peter
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidWallace, James
McLoughlin, PatrickWalter, Robert
Madel, Sir DavidWardle, Charles
Major, Rt Hon JohnWaterson, Nigel
Malins, HumfreyWebb, Steve
Maples, JohnWelsh, Andrew
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianWhitney, Sir Raymond
May, Mrs TheresaWhittingdale, John
Moore, MichaelWilkinson, John
Moss, MalcolmWilletts, David
Nicholls, PatrickWillis, Phil
Norman, ArchieWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Oaten, MarkWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Öpik, LembitWoodward, Shaun
Ottaway, RichardYeo, Tim
Page, RichardYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Paice, James
Paterson, OwenTellers for the Ayes:
Pickles, EricMrs. Caroline Spelman and
Prior, DavidMr. Stephen Day.
Abbott, Ms DianeBenton, Joe
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Bermingham, Gerald
Ainger, NickBerry, Roger
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Best, Harold
Allen, GrahamBetts, Clive
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Blackman, Liz
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Blears, Ms Hazel
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBlizzard, Bob
Ashton, JoeBoateng, Paul
Atherton, Ms CandyBorrow, David
Atkins, CharlotteBradley, Keith (Withington)
Austin, JohnBrinton, Mrs Helen
Barnes, HarryBrowne, Desmond
Barron, KevinBuck, Ms Karen
Battle, JohnBurden, Richard
Bayley, HughBurgon, Colin
Beard, NigelButler, Mrs Christine
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretByers, Rt Hon Stephen
Begg, Miss AnneCaborn, Richard
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Bennett, Andrew FCampbell—Savours, Dale
Cann, JamieGoggins, Paul
Caplin, IvorGolding, Mrs Llin
Casale, RogerGriffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Caton, MartinGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cawsey, IanGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chaytor, DavidGrocott, Bruce
Clapham, MichaelGrogan, John
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Gunnell, John
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Hain, Peter
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clelland, DavidHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coaker, VernonHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Coffey, Ms AnnHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Cohen, HarryHealey, John
Coleman, IainHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Colman, TonyHepburn, Stephen
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Heppell, John
Cooper, YvetteHesford, Stephen
Corbett, RobinHewitt, Ms Patricia
Corbyn, JeremyHill, Keith
Corston, Ms JeanHinchliffe, David
Cousins, JimHodge, Ms Margaret
Cranston, RossHoey, Kate
Crausby, DavidHome Robertson, John
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Hoon, Geoffrey
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Hope, Phil
Cummings, JohnHopkins, Kelvin
Cunliffe, LawrenceHowarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Curtis—Thomas, Mrs ClaireHowells, Dr Kim
Dalyell, TamHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Darvill, KeithHumble, Mrs Joan
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Hurst, Alan
Davidson, IanHutton, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Illsley, Eric
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dawson, HiltonJenkins, Brian
Dean, Mrs JanetJohnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Denham, JohnJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Dismore, AndrewJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Donohoe, Brian HJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Doran, Frank
Dowd, JimJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Drew, DavidJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Drown, Ms JuliaJowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKeeble, Ms Sally
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Edwards, HuwKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Efford, CliveKidney, David
Ellman, Mrs LouiseKilfoyle, Peter
Ennis, JeffKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Etherington, BillKumar, Dr Ashok
Fisher, MarkLadyman, Dr Stephen
Fitzpatrick, JimLawrence, Ms Jackie
Fitzsimons, LornaLaxton, Bob
Flint, CarolineLepper, David
Flynn, PaulLeslie, Christopher
Follett, BarbaraLevitt, Tom
Foster, Rt Hon DerekLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Linton, Martin
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Livingstone, Ken
Foulkes, GeorgeLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Fyfe, MariaLock, David
Galloway, GeorgeLove, Andrew
Gapes, MikeMcAllion, John
Gardiner, BarryMcAvoy, Thomas
Gerrard, NeilMcCabe, Steve
Gibson, Dr IanMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMcCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Godman, Dr Norman AMcDonagh, Siobhain
Godsiff, RogerMcDonnell, John
McFall, JohnRooney, Terry
McGuire, Mrs AnneRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McIsaac, ShonaRowlands, Ted
Mackinlay, AndrewRuane, Chris
McNamara, KevinRuddock, Joan
McNulty, TonyRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
MacShane, DenisRyan, Ms Joan
Mactaggart, FionaSalter, Martin
McWalter, TonySavidge, Malcolm
Mahon, Mrs AliceSawford, Phil
Mallaber, JudySedgemore, Brian
Mandelson, Rt Hon PeterShaw, Jonathan
Marek, Dr JohnSheerman, Barry
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Shipley, Ms Debra
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Singh, Marsha
Marshall—Andrews, RobertSkinner, Dennis
Martlew, EricSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Maxton, JohnSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelSmith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Meale, Alan
Merron, GillianSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Michael, Rt Hon AlunSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Milburn, Rt Hon AlanSouthworth, Ms Helen
Miller, AndrewSpellar, John
Moffatt, LauraSquire, Ms Rachel
Moonie, Dr LewisStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Steinberg, Gerry
Morley, ElliotStevenson, George
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Mountford, KaliStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mudie, GeorgeStinchcombe, Paul
Mullin, ChrisStoate, Dr Howard
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Stott, Roger
Naysmith, Dr DougStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Norris, DanStringer, Graham
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Hara, EddieTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, MartinTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Osborne, Ms SandraTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Palmer, Dr NickTemple—Morris, Peter
Pearson, IanThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pendry, TomThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Perham, Ms LindaTimms, Stephen
Pickthall, ColinTipping, Paddy
Pike, Peter LTouhig, Don
Plaskitt, JamesTrickett, Jon
Pond, ChrisTruswell, Paul
Pope, GregTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pound, StephenTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Powell, Sir RaymondTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnWalley, Ms Joan
Primarolo, DawnWareing, Robert N
Prosser, GwynWatts, David
Purchase, KenWhite, Brian
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceWicks, Malcolm
Quinn, LawrieWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Radice, Giles
Rapson, SydWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Wills, Michael
Roche, Mrs BarbaraWilson, Brian
Rooker, JeffWinnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Woolas, PhilTellers for the Noes:
Wray, JamesMr. David Hanson and
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)Mr. David Jamieson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House commends the Government for the introduction of vital measures to improve standards, particularly in literacy and numeracy; applauds the extra flexibility it has introduced in the national curriculum for primary pupils and support for work-related learning for 14–16 year olds; welcomes the Government's support for greater diversity through specialist schools and education action zones; believes that the extra £19 billion for schools will underpin the drive for higher standards and welcomes plans to reward good teachers well; congratulates Ministers for introducing much greater clarity to mailings for schools with a view to keeping paperwork to a minimum; recognises the huge benefits which the National Grid for Learning and voluntary schemes of work bring in reducing unnecessary paperwork; and notes that the Opposition has no proposals to raise standards in schools.