Teacher Supply

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 2:55 pm on 18th January 2001.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Education Sub-committee 2:55 pm, 18th January 2001

The hon. Gentleman has had his chance. Nearly all our debate has been Opposition Members making speeches and interventions. I am trying to correct—and, given my role, I believe that I have every right to do so—the balance of the comments of the Opposition spokesperson on education. I wish to balance what she described as a national crisis, in which schools would fall to pieces tomorrow, with the fact that that is a relatively minor problem. I accept that it is serious problem, but I am trying to put it in perspective.

In conclusion, I was trying to talk about the partnership that makes education work. It is a partnership in which the media have responsibilities. I picked out the "Today" programme but, generally, we have a very good and highly responsible educational press in this country. It joins the argument and, more often than not, raises the level of debate and discussion. However, even when the broadsheets get into the education field, too often we see a different aspect.

I have to say at least one uncomfortable thing to my own Front Bench, just to balance the fact that I have been rather kind on the question of whether or not this is a crisis. Some of us who represent English constituencies will increasingly question the ability and resources of three parts of the United Kingdom but especially one in the news at the moment—Scotland. We shall ask how Scotland can spend a great deal more money on education than England apparently can. I have the figures from the Library. Per capita, £814 a year is spent on education in Scotland. In England, that figure is £636; in Northern Ireland, it is £896; and in Wales, it is £645. Thus England is at the bottom.

Many of us who remember the original balance of resources that flowed from the Exchequer to different parts of the United Kingdom question very much the generosity of the Barnett formula, which gives Scotland the ability and resources to afford that sort of expenditure per head. English Members of Parliament—including some on the Front Bench, I am told—will increasingly question the Barnett formula and the flow of resources to Scotland, compared with the flow of resources to other parts of England.

If one speaks to people in the private sector and reads the Nuffield report, one sees that teachers like working in the private sector because more emphasis is placed there on the ability to teach than on keeping discipline. No Opposition Member commented on the disgraceful intervention made by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who said that the role of teachers in most state schools was to provide crowd control. That is a gross travesty. We should consider the damage that one such Back-Bench remark can do when it is reported in the press and teachers read it. [Interruption.] Opposition Members do not know the hon. Member for Buckingham as well as Labour Members; we understand exactly where he is coming from. It is damaging that an hon. Member can make such comments with no reprimand.

I want to provide some balance. Of course there is a problem with discipline in some schools and we must get to the roots of it. In my first education speech in the House, I suggested that it was about time that we gave kids with less academic ability something constructive to do. The number of experiments on getting kids into more work-related activities—such experiments have so far been conducted in 21 schools, where they apply to children at the age of 14—should be increased. Furthermore, we still underrate the value of information technology training for that sector of pupils. The standard of information training in Britain is still well below that in many of our European competitor countries. I want this country to become the information and learning society of Europe and to be determined to use every resource to be the most successful country in achieving that.

My experience in schools suggests that giving less academically able children the opportunity to gain IT skills early on allows them to contribute, makes them feel valued and gives them self esteem Research also shows that that is the case. I hope that the Government listen to that message, as such opportunities make life in the classroom so much easier and better. Where they are available, the whole school will benefit from all the children feeling valued and having value.