I beg to move,
That this House
notes that thousands of teaching posts have been lost in schools as a result of this year's funding crisis;
condemns the Government for failing to respond early enough to reports of these redundancies, instead seeking to lay the blame on local authorities;
further condemns the Government for not using any of the Department for Education and Skills' underspent money to alleviate this crisis;
further notes that schools are having to ask parents for regular contributions to alleviate cash shortages;
is concerned about the effect of these redundancies among teachers and support staff on the implementation of the Workload Agreement;
and urges the Government to simplify the funding system for schools so that there will be no repeat of this year's problems in the recruitment and retention of teachers.
I am sure that the House will understand, as I do, that the Secretary of State has a prior commitment at the TUC, which is why he is not with us today. I hope that he takes the opportunity to talk to some of the teachers' representatives who will no doubt be there. One reason for our calling this debate is to show that the Government are letting down not just those who rely on our public services but those who work in them. It is not only parents and children who have been hit by the Government's school funding crisis but teachers, who are being made redundant in schools up and down the country. I am not surprised that teachers are angry—they have been betrayed by the Government's false promises, and they will never trust them again.
Ministers sometimes affect surprise that trust in the Government and especially the Prime Minister has disappeared. They seem puzzled that people no longer think that they are competent to run the public services. For an explanation they need look no further than the mess that they have created in our schools and their own performance in responding to this crisis since it became apparent earlier this year. This year, Ministers have provided the general public with a master-class in blunder and confusion. One moment we have protestations of innocence, while in the next breath the Government concoct a short-term and inadequate solution to the very problem that they just told the public did not exist at all.
The history of the crisis is instructive. When questioned by the Select Committee on Education and Skills in July this year, David Normington, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills, told us when he began to feel that there were going to be problems with school funding in the year ahead. His answer to the Select Committee was that it was after the Secretary of State's arrival
"at the end of October and before Christmas, some time around then."
We now know that the Department knew before Christmas that the crisis was going to hit our schools. After Christmas, at the Secondary Heads Association conference, the Secretary of State said that there was no problem. Indeed, he had previously told the Association of Chief Education Officers that simply throwing more money at them would not solve their problems. Such a request, he said, showing less than his usual charm,
"just floods straight over my head. I don't listen to what you say quite frankly".
I am sure that the association responded in kind.
Is my hon. Friend not being characteristically over-generous to the Secretary of State and, indeed, the Department? In fact, it would have been clear to anyone that a major upset in funding to local authorities would result in a major upset in schools' funding. That should have been clear well before the Secretary of State assumed his present post.
My hon. Friend makes a distinguished contribution to the Education and Skills Committee, and he is exactly right. Indeed, it ought to have been apparent to the Secretary of State and other Ministers that not only was the local government settlement likely to cause difficulties but many other matters under the direct control of the Government were going to cause problems, not least the Chancellor's insistence on increasing employers' national insurance contributions, which hit schools particularly hard—characteristically, 80 per cent. of a school's budget is taken up with staff costs—and the decision to increase employers' pension contributions, which came straight off the bottom line of school budgets. The bulk of the crisis has therefore been caused by decisions made inside government.
I therefore agree with my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State's apparent ignorance of the fact that the crisis was going to happen, let alone the reason why it was happening, is quite extraordinary. I can only assume that he was convinced by the announcement by the Minister for School Standards that every local education authority
"will be getting at least 3.2 per cent. per pupil increase for next year, with further increases in the following two years. No LEA will lose out in real terms as this new system is introduced".
That was the Government's formal position in the early months of this year.
The logic of my hon. Friend's argument and the comments given in the Select Committee evidence to which he referred suggest that when Ministers sought to blame hard-working LEAs for the problem, claiming that they had held back money from schools and that that is where the root of the difficulty lay, they were presenting a disgraceful travesty of the reality and that their statements were, frankly, untrue.
My hon. Friend is correct. I am afraid that it is sadly characteristic of the Government that, when they are faced with a problem, their first instinct is to look not for a solution, but a scapegoat. In this case, the scapegoat was to be local education authorities. I suspect that the reason why the Government gave up on their fruitless quest for a scapegoat had nothing to do with the merits of the case, but related to the fact that many Labour-controlled authorities throughout the country were pointing out that their schools were suffering in the same way as those of Conservative-controlled authorities, which became politically unhelpful to them.
In May, in response to many LEAs of all political colours, protests from schools and the rising number of complaints about the crisis, the Department finally announced that it would allow schools to set deficit budgets and that they would be allowed to use their capital budgets for paying teachers' salaries. That was the first signal that the Department was beginning to accept the scale of the problem. However, I remind Ministers of what we said at the time: allowing schools to dip into money intended for capital projects as well as their reserves risks storing up even greater problems for the future. The scale of the problems that the Government have stored up with that approach to the problem is now beginning to become clear.
Does my hon. Friend agree that any school that was planning major works, which would almost certainly occur during the summer holidays, would already have committed itself to the contractors by the time that the Secretary of State panicked and made this apparent concession?
My hon. Friend is right. Many head teachers have said that when a school is engaged in a major capital project, it is extremely likely that it will be carried out during the summer holidays. Given the need to book builders, it is likely that arrangements will have been made for this year long before the Government gave permission for the money to be spent elsewhere. Their gesture was therefore moderately futile as well as ill timed.
Is it not a fact that we are now spending more on our school buildings and putting an end to the decaying, crumbling schools that existed under 18 years of Tory rule? The Tories never for one moment accepted that the standard of school premises had any effect on the education of our children.
If that is the best that Labour Members can come up with, they will have a lot of explaining to do to head teachers who have been told to use their capital budgets for revenue spending. Let me quote Nick Christou at East Barnet school, just one of the many affected head teachers, who has had to divert £90,000 from capital projects. He said:
"The money that I had was for repairing the roofs because they are leaking all over the place—in the maths office and textile technology room for a start. But we have to use it and run with our leaky roofs for one more year. We will just have to put buckets underneath them."
In Labour-controlled Ealing, schools are using between 70 and 100 per cent. of their reserves just to avoid another crisis this year. The Government's first response merely stored up a worse crisis for years to come.
Even once the Department and its Ministers had accepted that there was a problem, there was still an enormous gulf between the reality of life in our schools and the purported facts coming from the Government. Even in June, some in the Government were unwilling to accept the scale of the problems. On
"how many teachers are facing redundancy right now?"
The Prime Minister replied:
"According to the Department for Education and Skills, there are about 500 net redundancies."
We now know that that answer grossly underestimated the problems that schools have been facing. As my right hon. Friend said at the time:
"The reality is that the figures for redundancies are that, this year, three times as many will face the sack as last year." —[Hansard, 11 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 673–74.]
Does my hon. Friend agree that the number of potential redundancies is being masked? What would he say to those at my local school, Chalfonts community college, which has been forced to send out a letter to parents and guardians asking for £20 per family per term to enable it to maintain a full teaching staff and equipment to further the children's education? Is it not true that all those teachers are facing redundancy unless they get those parental contributions because the Government have kept money back from our schools?
Absolutely. All that I can say to my hon. Friend is that I hope that Ministers will apologise to the head, teachers, parents and governors at her school and at many others that face similar problems.
By midsummer, even Ministers had stopped trying to bluster their way out of the crisis. Extraordinarily, one of their partial solutions was to scrap one of their own flagship policies—the school achievement award. That was truly bizarre. Only in May, the Minister for School Standards had said:
"It is right to reward the staff whose work helps pupils to learn and today's awards celebrate their achievements".
Two months later, the Secretary of State announced that too many teachers had been allowed to go to the top pay levels too quickly. In the next month, he announced that the Government would be scrapping the policy that was, according to them, intended to
"celebrate the work of the entire school community".
Clearly, 2003 is not the year to be a teacher under this Labour Government. Last week, the Secretary of State finally came close to apologising to the thousands of children facing the new school year with fewer teachers. In a webcast to welcome the new academic year, he said:
"The government make mistakes, certainly I do, my colleagues do, and the handling of the schools' funding last year was a good example of that which I am determined to put right this year."
In these circumstances, with so many teachers experiencing redundancy or facing the threat of redundancy, I am amazed that the Government have the nerve to run expensive TV advertising campaigns for teacher recruitment. There is something surreal about watching a news programme that contains an item about teachers losing their jobs just before an advert urging people to become teachers. I congratulate Ministers on their latest advert, which features large numbers of headless people. As a piece of post-modern irony commenting on the Department's performance this year, it cannot be beaten.
If the Secretary of State had admitted culpability when these problems first arose, and had created a real solution instead of merely putting off the inevitable, perhaps we would not be in a situation in which one school in five are asking parents to make contributions to keep the school system going—my hon. Friend Mrs. Gillan gave an example—and in which a survey by the Secondary Heads Association and The Times Educational Supplement found that 2,700 teaching posts had not been filled and that 700 teachers have been made redundant. Only months ago, the Prime Minister was talking of losses in the order of 500 teachers.
I would be pleased to read out a lot more from The Times Educational Supplement if the hon. Gentleman likes. Its headline is: "Staff cuts running into thousands", and it gives what it calls the "critical numbers", stating that 2,729 teachers and 1,152 support staff have not been replaced because of lack of funding. [Interruption.] The Minister for School Standards urges me to carry on. I need no urging. The TES goes on to say that there have been 730 teacher and 301 support staff redundancies; that there are 1,881 unfilled teacher posts; and that, of teachers appointed, 4,246—16.6 per cent.—were judged unsatisfactory by heads.
I am pleased that I, too, brought that copy of The Times Educational Supplement with me. Is it not the case that it reports that 3,548 additional new teachers are being hired, which is a net increase of 89 on the numbers that the hon. Gentleman quoted?
The Minister also knows that the increase in the school population means that approximately 1,000 teachers are needed to keep pupil-teacher ratios steady and that the Government have failed to do that. Perhaps he will turn to the inside pages of The Times Educational Supplement, which paint an even bleaker picture. [Interruption.] The job adverts appear in a separate supplement because teacher retention is so difficult under the Government.
The head of the Royal Grammar school in High Wycombe has pledged £15,000 of his salary to ease his school's budget problems. The school caretaker is offering £5 a month. In East Anglia, one comprehensive school is considering charging for textbooks. One school in London—the London Oratory, which, I dare say, is familiar to senior members of the Government—is asking parents for an increase of £5 in the monthly £30 contribution that they already make. The school made it clear that the call for extra money is a direct result of the funding cuts for many schools in southern England that the Government announced early this year. The Oratory started term last week with fewer teachers.
Labour Members, notably Ministers, display some reluctance to accept the facts that my hon. Friend is presenting to the House. Here is a fact: at the Old Buckenham high school in my constituency, more children are on the roll this term than last term and there are two fewer teachers. Is that factual enough for Ministers? It is an example of what is happening throughout my constituency: more children and fewer teachers. Moreover, any sicknesses in the school mean that classes will have to double to 60 pupils. Is not that a marvellous achievement by the Government?
My right hon. Friend is right that Ministers appear peculiarly reluctant to accept the facts that everyone else acknowledges to constitute an accurate description of life in our schools today. Their immediate reaction to the Secondary Heads Association survey was simply to rubbish it. It was followed by a survey of local education authorities in The Guardian that showed similar results. Ministers must stop pretending that the rest of the world is out of step.
In 55 local authorities, more than 1,000 full-time teaching posts have been lost through redundancies and schools opting not to replace teachers who leave for other reasons. If that pattern were repeated in all local education authorities, approximately 2,500 teaching posts would be lost. We have a consistent set of numbers, which everyone, except the Government, recognises.
In the Minister's authority, 17 teaching posts have been lost. The LEA told The Guardian:
"Schools have set budgets by using their high levels of carry-forward balances."
In the Secretary of State's authority, 11 teaching posts have been lost and French and German classes are being cut in schools, which can simply no longer afford them. The Government tell us that they want to revive language teaching in schools, yet schools are having to cut such classes because of the Government's funding policies.
Not only teachers but support staff are suffering. According to The Times Educational Supplement, on top of the 301 support staff who have been made redundant, 1,152 support staff have not been replaced because of lack of funding. There are also problems with cuts in the capital budget that the Government have forced on schools. One can only spend one's capital once.
What do Ministers say to Roland Waller, the head of Morley High in Leeds, who said:
"We have protected staffing by cutting repairs and maintenance to the bone this year. Upgrades to classroom furniture will be virtually zero and our rolling programme of redecoration and refurnishing has been curtailed."
Only yesterday, Anne Welsh, the new president of the Secondary Heads Association, said that this year's cash crisis would have repercussions for many years. She said that problems were exacerbated because
"It is increasingly difficult to persuade young teachers to take on the responsibility of middle management roles, which is very worrying given that most in leadership positions are within 10 years of retiring."
We are not therefore considering a one-year crisis; it will linger in schools for years.
The crisis throws into severe doubt the success of the Government's workload agreement with teachers, which is supposed to be their big reforming idea of this Parliament. It will work only if there are enough teachers and teaching assistants to make it work. I was therefore fascinated by the Government's amendment, which mentions 25,000 extra teachers. Ministers like to talk about such figures. We have heard some of that from those on the Government Benches already this afternoon.
Let us look at the facts as they have been revealed today by the Department itself. The number of full-time, regular, qualified teachers has fallen by 1,400 over the past 12 months. These are not my figures: they are the Department's figures, published today. The number of overseas and unqualified teachers has quadrupled since this Government came to power. Without raiding countries that need their own teachers and using unqualified teachers, the Government would not be able to staff our schools, even before the work load agreement comes into effect.
Jamaica, in particular. The Jamaican Government have protested to our Government that our country is enticing away too many of Jamaica's teachers to work in our country. The hon. Gentleman is a decent man: I am sure that he worries about relatively poor countries, and that he does not want this country to be scouring the world for teachers from poorer countries that need their own teachers in their own country.
Of course, school funding will be affected. West Berkshire council has calculated that the agreement will cost it an extra £2 million this year, with another £1.7 million in September 2005. I believe that it is a Liberal Democrat council, and it states that the cost of the work load agreement reform will be £78.20 per pupil in primary schools, and £100.93 in secondary schools.
The evidence of the Department's permanent secretary has made it clear that one of the main reasons behind this problem is that the funding system is far too complicated. In his exchange with the Education and Skills Committee, he was asked for his definition of the formula spending share and, with commendable honesty, he answered:
"I am not sure I know".
If the permanent secretary does not know how the system works, it is hard to imagine how heads and governors—let alone parents—are supposed to know how it works.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is one of the reasons why the Government find it so difficult to understand exactly how serious the problem is: for the first time in my 39 years in this House, the Secretary of State was unwilling to meet Members of Parliament and representatives of local schools to explain the seriousness of the situation? The junior Minister was going to meet me and my hon. Friend Mr. Amess today but that meeting was put off because of the debate. We are now told that it will be yet another two months before we even meet him. Would it not be infinitely better if the Secretary of State would meet Members of Parliament—as all Secretaries of State have always done in my experience?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is a shame if the Secretary of State will not meet him. I am sure that when he does reorganise his meeting—with whichever Minister—it will be extremely fruitful.
Before the recent crisis, I do not think that anyone inside or outside this House thought that the current system was simple enough to understand or, more to the point, fair enough to deal justly with the different needs of different areas of the country.
What is needed to remove this unnecessary confusion is a far simpler method of funding our schools in a manner that will give each school greater autonomy and remove many of the complications that exist in the current system. The Government have not yet made it clear whether they intend to cut out local education authorities altogether from their new system—which I assume they will announce in the next few weeks.
Whatever the Government do needs greater predictability and simplicity to remove the need for central Government to set minimum levels of delegation and to ring-fence budgets. That would mean that many of the problems that we have seen this year would have less chance of recurring in the future. Crucially, it would also mean that heads and governors could choose their own priorities, and not simply reflect what Ministers want. It would also allow parents to compare funding levels in different areas, force Governments to defend the weighting applied to different factors, and allow good local authorities to use savings from administration for improved services by spending the money where it matters—in our schools.
Just 15 months on from the announcement of the comprehensive spending review, which was supposed to solve the financial problems in our schools, Ministers are presiding over cuts, redundancies, deficits, short-term sticking-plaster solutions and rising anger from teachers and parents alike. It is a terrible indictment of ministerial incompetence that they did not see this crisis coming, spent months trying to find a scapegoat instead of a solution and are still floundering around hoping that they have not stored up further problems for years to come. They stand condemned in schools up and down this country. I commend our motion to the House.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"applauds the significant increase in funding made available by the Government to schools since 1997 and the increase in standards schools have achieved;
recognises that schools have had extra costs as well as extra investment this year;
welcomes the statement to the House on 17th July by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills announcing measures to bring stability to school funding in 2004–05 and 2005–06, including a guarantee of a minimum per pupil increase in funding for schools, and maintaining and inflation-proofing the income that schools will receive from the Standards Fund;
supports the consultation his Department is undertaking with representatives of head teachers and local education authorities;
welcomes the fact that there are around 25,000 more teachers in schools and over 80,000 more support staff than there were in 1997 and more teachers with Qualified Teacher Status in schools than at any time since 1984;
acknowledges three years of rising recruitment to teacher training and the 3,000 more graduates who have accepted training places than this time last year;
and welcomes a 25 per cent. fall in the number of unfilled teacher vacancies between 2002 and 2003."
I am delighted to have an opportunity, at the beginning of the school term, to put on parliamentary record the Government's congratulations to students on their exam and test results this summer, and also our thanks to teachers up and down the country whose hard work has contributed to those results. We in the Labour party say without reservation that when teaching improves and students work hard, we should welcome rising standards and not denounce them. This year we have seen world-class standards in primary schools maintained, good improvement at key stage 3, steady progress by those aged 16, and excellent results at A-level and in vocational studies. Those qualifications are well worth the paper on which they are written, and the country should applaud such results. The reactionary curse that somehow more will mean worse has no place in the 21st century.
I also welcome the opportunity to repeat what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said here on
Labour is proud that the last teacher census featured 25,000 more teachers than six years ago, and 13,000 more than two years ago. We applaud the growth in support staff numbers: there are over 80,000 more than six years ago. We are encouraged by the fact that the teacher vacancy rate fell to 0.9 per cent. in 2002–03, with 1,130 fewer vacancies than the year before. We also welcome the fact that the latest teacher training numbers, for 2003–04, are up by nearly 3,000 on last year.
We note that, even according to the partial Times Educational Supplement survey on which Mr. Green hung so much of his case, more teachers were hired than were laid off, with four times as many support staff hired as were leaving their posts. The annual survey of teacher numbers is conducted in January, and the results are published in spring. It will give definitive figures for this academic year. It is interesting that both the Local Government Association and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers have said that it does no one any good to exaggerate the problems, and both report an aggregate position similar to that of previous years. We recognise that there have been serious problems, however, which is why we want to overcome those problems. We share responsibility with LEAs for raising funds and for distributing them.
The Minister quoted the view that there was no point in exaggerating the problems. Will he tell us whether the 25,000 figure refers to full-time equivalent qualified teachers, and, if it does not, will he tell us what is the figure relating to such teachers?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the 25,000 figure refers to full-time equivalent teachers with qualified teacher status or qualifications from other countries equivalent to such status, or to teachers on employment-based routes into training. We discussed this at Question Time in June, and the figures are absolutely clear: qualified teacher status numbers are higher than they have been at any time since 1984. There is also a significant number of teachers with equivalent qualifications from other countries, as well as teachers on employment-based routes.
There have been problems this year. Let me summarise the reasons for them. Total education funding for 2003–04 has risen by £2.7 billion. I shall return later to the irony of the fact that a Conservative party that refuses to support the increased spending now says that it is not enough. While investment has risen, however, so have costs, by some £2.45 billion. A teacher who joined the profession in 1997 is now 60 per cent. better off in real terms. There has been a one-off increase in pension contributions this year, as well as the national insurance changes mentioned by the hon. Member for Ashford.
Increased costs mean that however great the increase in investment, overall headroom this year is limited. At local level—the hon. Gentleman did not mention this—pupil numbers are falling significantly in the primary sector for the first time since the introduction of the local management of schools. There are 55,000 fewer pupils this year than last in the primary sector; next year, there will be 60,000 fewer. That means funding reductions for some schools. Meanwhile, the decentralisation of the ring-fenced standards fund that was long urged by teachers and local government proves—how can I put it?—to be extremely popular in theory, but in practice, because it means the re-direction of direct grants, some schools are hit hard. Furthermore, in a significant number of local education authorities schools did not receive the full amount indicated under education formula spend, and spending on centrally retained pupil services rose faster than budgets devolved to schools. Also, the lateness of information for schools, for which this Department and local authorities bear responsibility, has made budgetary planning difficult.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates a matter that I shall come to in a moment. Essentially, indications of local authorities' passporting intentions have been brought forward by at least a month, and the School Teachers Review Body will report in early November, rather than in early February.
Will the Minister confirm that the two figures for the reduction in primary school numbers that he has just announced—55,000 this year and 60,000 next—represent about 1 per cent. of enrolled primary school numbers, but that the total reduction in costs for the relevant schools will be significantly less than the 1 per cent. that they will encounter when the grant formula allocates the amounts to them?
The answer is that that depends on the formulae that the various local authorities have for reflecting pupil numbers in the distribution of funds to schools.
Let me turn to how we will work with heads and local government to fulfil our commitment to ensuring that, in 2004–05 and 2005–06, stability and growth are delivered on the ground. The number one demand from head teachers is confidence for future years to help them manage their way through this difficult but unique year. On
There is also a commitment to full passporting of money into education and a two-and-a-half year pay deal, with rigorous management of the upper pay spine. I can report to the House that there is close and ongoing co-operation with local government and representatives of teachers and head teachers on these issues, and I pay tribute to the constructive and serious way in which this work is being done.
Will the Minister now apologise to all those hard-working and committed LEAs, such as mine in East Sussex, which gave a robust rebuttal to his and the Secretary of State's allegation that they were hanging on to money bound for schools? Will he accept that those allegations turned out to be totally without foundation?
I can only say that, in the round and partly because of the difficulties of notification to which I referred, significant funds certainly were still being held at local authority level in April or May. I do not know about the individual circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I am very happy to write to him about whatever difference of opinion exists.
I want to explain the fruits of the efforts being made by the Department, head teachers and local government. In the next month, we will be able to announce the level of the per pupil guarantee and the decisions on the standards fund. In November, the Government will announce the local government settlement, and the School Teachers Review Body will report its pay recommendations significantly earlier than usual. We intend that, by the end of December, every school will know of its LEA's passporting intentions. This is a considered and effective process to deliver continued growth and progress in the education system. As the Secretary of State made clear in July, at each stage we will sustain the national agreement on work force reform. That agreement is phased over three years, matching the profile of spending increases. I am pleased to report that unions representing teachers, all head teachers and all support staff remain resolutely committed to that work force agreement. That is an example, if I may say so, of the social partnership that is talked about on both sides of the House, and which is certainly being talked about in Brighton at the moment.
Will the Minister further clarify the minimum per pupil upgrading? Will it be based on the amount paid per pupil this year after cuts—or after increases paid for out of capital budgets—or will it be based on the amount paid in the previous year before the result of the turmoil?
That is precisely what we are discussing with head teachers. We obviously want to reflect as closely as we can the actual position in schools throughout the country. The per pupil increase that will be announced at the end of September or early October is designed to provide a fair reflection of the position on the ground.
I was talking about the work force agreement. We are agreed with our partners that the costs of the agreement rise over three years, but it is also important not to accept that every change in the way teachers work requires additional resources. That is why the national remodelling team is working with heads and, critically, with governors to share good practice in the management of teacher work load. The Conservative motion suggests, I think for the first time, support for the principles of the work load agreement. If the Conservatives are committed to its principles, I welcome their conversion, albeit a late one, to changes that will benefit teachers and pupils alike.
The motion refers tentatively to underspends in the Department, but the theme was not developed. However, anticipating that it might be a strong point, I asked the Department to dig further into the issue and it would benefit the House if I set out the position clearly. The motion refers to the public expenditure White Paper published by the Treasury, in which a figure of £1.8 billion is mentioned. I do not want the House to be under any misapprehension that somehow that amount is waiting to be spent. That money is not underspent, but being spent. The sum of £900 million was allocated to departmental programmes, including schools, for 2003–04 and beyond. That was made clear in May. The sum of £350 million was spent in 2002–03, but billed by outside contractors in 2003–04. More than £300 million is being spent on projects such as sure start, but only after rigorous quality criteria are met; and £200 million is being committed to school budgets for future years. The Department is committed to spend what it is given for the three years of the spending review period—and we are committed to spending it well, to secure quality as well as quantity.
These are very impressive and helpful figures to learn about—[Interruption.] They are very convincing, but has the Minister made any assessment of the surplus funds held by a considerable number of schools on account of the fact that local authorities no longer financially manage the funds that go to schools generally? Does he have any idea of how that money could be released for this particular year?
It is always encouraging to receive my hon. Friend's praise, however gently it is disguised—faint praise. He makes a serious point, however. From memory, the figure quoted for school balances was about £1.2 billion, but those balances will have been reduced substantially over the past six months. I believe that local education authorities collect the figures about once a year. The annual survey will provide a clearer sense of the position and we can judge the circumstances on that basis.
I can reassure my hon. Friend that the figures are released, not kept a secret.
The Department and Ministers are, as I hope I have been able to demonstrate, in close touch with schools and local education authorities that face problems this year. We take their concerns seriously and will work to sort them out. However, I suggest that one group from whom lessons are unlikely to be learned is the Conservative party. In a debate in Westminster Hall, the Conservative spokesman, Mr. Brady, freely admitted that Conservative Governments did not do enough for education in the past. He can say that again. Over 18 years of Conservative Government—between 1979 and 1997—47,000 teaching posts were lost. That is what the hon. Gentleman euphemistically referred to as "not doing enough".
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative spokesman was a little unfair to his party's track record? The support—moral, financial and legislative—that his Government gave to the private sector in education accounts for its steady growth in the Conservative years.
My hon. Friend tempts me into very productive terrain. In a debate in a Committee considering a statutory instrument in July—I cannot remember whether my hon. Friend was in the Chair at that point—the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West made it clear that he was proud of what Conservative Governments had done in the 1980s to support the private sector, and that he was committed to returning to some of those policies. I am sure that we will return to that matter in the future.
I think that the figure on the tip of my hon. Friend's tongue is that, by 1997, £700 million a year—or £30,000 per school—was being spent on schools in capital terms. The figure is now £3.8 billion a year, so my hon. Friend is absolutely right.
I will let the hon. Gentleman intervene, but I hope to edify the House with some more information about Opposition policies.
If the Minister believes that a growing independent sector is a sign of failing Government supervision in schools, will he explain why independent numbers are growing at present, under his Government?
First, I did not say that. Clearly, the Government are committed to making the state sector as good as possible. That is the point that my hon. Friend David Taylor was making.
However, I want to develop the point. Although the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West said that Conservative Governments had not done enough for education in the past, the hon. Member for Ashford said in July 2002 that the Opposition were not "in principle opposed" to spending more on education. His deputy, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, went further. In a debate on school funding on
I looked up the word "quibble" in the dictionary. It means to make trivial objections. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale was right about one thing: the Opposition's objections to the increased spending have been far from trivial: they have been fundamental, ongoing, dogmatic and ideological at every stage. While the hon. Member for Ashford said that the Opposition did not oppose spending on education, his party's official position was quite the opposite.
The Conservative policy guide was published last October. I commend it to the House. It had the ironic title "Leadership with a Purpose". Need I say more than that it was written by Mr. Bercow, before he stormed out of the shadow Cabinet in protest at the leadership that he was promoting? Even so, let us listen to what the guide says. In contrast to the hon. Member for Ashford, it states:
"Conservatives do not support the tax and spending the Government has announced."
The hon. Gentleman says that that is absolutely consistent, but how can it be consistent for him to say that the Conservatives do not oppose the spending increases, but for his party's policy guide to say that they do? That seems quite a contradiction.
"I explicitly on three separate occasions when asked said we will not match Government spending plans."
The hon. Member for Ashford says one thing, yet his party policy is the absolute opposite.
Let me resolve the confusion in the Minister's mind. What we oppose is the way that his Government waste huge amounts of taxpayers' money. We think that money spent in the education budget should go to schools and be spent on decisions taken by heads and governors and teachers. It should not be wasted on bureaucracy, in a way that causes teaching redundancies all over the country even when the Government are taxing people more than ever before. It is the way that the Government tax and spend that lets them down. That is why the British people do not trust the Minister or the Prime Minister any more.
The hon. Gentleman will regret prolonging this discussion because I can assure him that we shall return to the point again and again in the years ahead. He obviously was not listening to what I said, because his own policy guide says in clear terms that the Conservatives do not support the tax and spending increases that the Government have announced. His own leader explicitly said:
"We will not match Government spending plans."
I do not know what could be clearer than that.
I beg the hon. Lady's pardon, but I shall ask her to intervene once I have made my point.
It is not just the Opposition's words but their actions that tell their position. Every time they have had a chance to vote on spending increases they have not, it is true, quibbled, but they have sought to tear up the spending increases and deny them to schools. On money to fund the new deal for schools, which will be of interest to my hon. Friend Mr. Pike, the Opposition voted against. On cutting class sizes, they voted against. The 1998 spending review, which raised school spending by £340 per pupil, they denounced as reckless. The 2000 spending review raised spending by a further £370 per pupil but was described as irresponsible and imprudent. The 2002 spending review delivering this year's rises in teachers' pay was denied the support of the Opposition.
The Conservative party is a party of serial quibblers, serial opposers, and serial voters against money for schools, money for teachers, money for books and money for buildings.
I seek some clarity from the Minister. He says that everything in the garden is rosy and that so much money is coming down the line from the Government that our schools, teachers, governors and parents have nothing to worry about. Can he give me a clear recommendation for the parents of the children who go to Chalfonts community college? Would he tell those parents not to pay the £20 per term for their children's teachers and equipment, or would he tell them to pay the money because it is necessary? May we have some clear guidance on that? Is the instruction to the parents to pay the money to maintain the school or not?
I could not have made clearer at the beginning of my speech the fact that there are serious problems in some schools. I must have said so up to half a dozen times. Of course I do not pretend that everything is—
The hon. Lady was very patient in waiting to ask her question, but might show a bit of patience in waiting for the answer. I did not say that everything in the garden is rosy. It would be absurd of me to make a recommendation to parents of a school in her constituency without knowing any of the details. Indeed, it would be quite wrong of me to do so in any case. For many years schools have undertaken fund-raising drives in all sorts of ways. It would be odd of Ministers to give them commands. I do know that the efforts of parents and the wider community to raise funds for schools are much better suited to a situation in which funding is rising rather than falling.
The hon. Gentleman says so, but we have been through this before. When his party was in office between 1992 and 1997 spending fell by around £100 per pupil in real terms.
I do not want to try the patience of the House, so I shall try to come to a conclusion.
I do not think that my hon. Friend is trying anyone's patience. Does he recall visiting Hyde technology college in my constituency, and has he seen that results there have gone up from 50 per cent. of students gaining five A to C grades to 63 per cent. of students doing so? Will he agree to visit some more schools in my constituency so that he can try to have the same effect?
I wish I could have that effect on every school in every constituency that I visit. I do remember my visit to Hyde technology college, which is an extremely impressive school boasting committed teachers, governors and pupils. I am delighted to hear of the significant increase in GCSE performance. We announced A to C rates for entries at GCSE in August, and the evidence that I heard from Labour Members in the Lobby last night was that rates of achievement of five A to C grades by pupils around the country far exceed that. The evidence that my hon. Friend has just adduced is relevant in that regard. I take seriously his further offer of hospitality and look forward to trying to take it up on some occasion.
Schools face serious problems this year, as I have repeatedly said, but we are determined to overcome those problems in partnership with head teachers and local authorities. This is the year when the majority of secondary schools will achieve specialist status. This is the year when 1,400 of our toughest schools receive the leadership incentive grant. This is the year when capital investment tops £3.8 billion a year and when teachers have the first contractual change in their work load for a generation.
According to all the international comparisons, we are doing well, but the Government are determined to do better. That is our commitment and I commend our amendment to the House.
May I apologise for not being my hon. Friend Mr. Willis? I am not entirely sure that is something for which I should apologise, as there is little I can do about it, but I wanted to underline the point that the debate will be much poorer without his searching, yet always constructive, critique of Government policy. Even as I speak, my hon. Friend is pushing back the frontiers of education in some other place—not, of course, the other place—and I am bereft of his counsel.
I feel somewhat exposed standing here without a Dispatch Box or my customary barrier to lean on, and heavily outnumbered to boot. However, as the Government have adopted an anti-bullying strategy, perhaps I can afford to relax—[Interruption.]. An hon. Member points out that the strategy is only for the under-fives.
Unsurprisingly, the proposition is that the Government are a bad lot. They have got school funding wrong, have tried to blame local authorities and, in triggering redundancies, have jeopardised promising agreements to reduce teacher work loads and created problems for teacher recruitment and retention. That, I understand, is the objection, as set out by the Tory motion.
That thesis was significantly improved by the Liberal Democrat amendment, which unfortunately was not chosen. Our amendment pointed out that previous Conservative Governments created, if anything, bigger financial problems for schools. That sophistication adds a measure of fairness and historical perspective to the original motion.
The Government amendment appears to consist of a recognition of the problem, a clutch of partial truths and a dose of self-congratulation. I fail to see why the refined Liberal Democrat amendment should not commend itself to any rational Member of the House and I shall endeavour to provide evidence.
When it became apparent that schools had problems, the Government clearly, and perhaps genuinely, thought that their ambitious plans to pass money to schools had been foiled by avaricious or acquisitive local authorities, which might have used the money for other purposes. On
By the time the Select Committee on Education and Skills had got around to examining the fiasco and Mr. Normington had given his evidence, even the Government's advisers were talking not of the perfidy of local authorities but of the failure of modelling—whatever that means. In essence, in ordinary parlance, they had got their sums wrong.
It is unkind of me to rake the matter up, as I am sure that Ministers would like to bury the infamous press release of
"The purpose of this exercise is not to apportion blame."
It seems to be commonly agreed that if one took the additional money given by the Government—and there was additional money—subtracted the effect of increases for national insurance and pensions, the effect of the salary improvements this year and last year, the differential effect of the new local government finance system, the effect of the withdrawal of the standards fund, added inflation and rolled it all up, some schools would receive no real-terms increase. That is not only possible, it actually happened. There is incontestable evidence that it happened in many parts of the country and the extent is becoming increasingly clear.
Only this week, a paper from a constituency adjacent to mine carried a telling headline, which was promoted neither by me nor by my party. It stated simply:
"Whitehall dunces get new term budget sums wrong."
That is a fairly accurate summary, in journalistic speak, of what actually happened. That it happened is evidenced by the Secretary of State's statement to the House on
I know two things about the new deal for schools. First, it will be discussed with what are now known as the Government's partners in education. Secondly, the aspiration is that things will be transparent. Sceptics and perhaps even cynics will see the Treasury's hand in that, because things are not transparent. Could it be that the Treasury or the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister would like the school funding spending share to be opaque, rather than transparent? Could it be that it is not so much a generous promise by the Secretary of State to open his coffers, but more an instruction to councils to extract more cash from council tax payers?
We will find out soon enough, but we may be back to the old game of standard spending assessments and passporting, which have long since been rumbled and will continue to be so. That may be unkind; the Secretary of State impresses me as a man of natural generosity. [Interruption.] I will apply that comment to other Ministers as well; perhaps they have the same disposition. The Secretary of State is even prepared to make handouts from his own Department's money, and he referred in his statement to something called end-of-term flexibility, which most of us would call an underspend. Hon. Members would agree that £1.2 billion, or whatever the figure may be, is an awful lot of flexibility and that school bursars would genuinely like a bit of flexibility too.
A key problem in the new settlement—I should like the Minister to listen to this specific point and to respond to it—is that local authority special education budgets will be constrained under the new regime. Local authorities will be constrained in the amount by which school budgets increase. Everyone accepts that special education budgets are demand-led—they are controlled by the rights of parents and those of the children themselves—and that individual cases can be extraordinarily expensive. The net effect of that artificial constraint can only be to open the door to worrying litigation involving individual cases, as councils try to constrain their budgets in line with an artificial limit and seek to keep down costs. I want to flag up that concern, and I should like the Minister to respond to it in summing up.
Moving to the positive side, the Secretary of State and other Ministers will be reassured to discover that I am sending a copy of the reassuring statement issued on
Teachers will not necessarily be reassured by the current tranche of statistics thrown down by the Government. They will not be reassured by people telling them that there are an extra 25,000 teachers because that figure includes trainees, instructors and people without qualified status. They will not be reassured by talk of 3,000 more graduates opting to teach because they read the papers and know that one in three people gives up the profession after about three years. They know for a fact, from their own experience, that there are acute shortages in some subjects and in some areas, such as the south-east. They know that, according to The Times Educational Supplement, 700 teachers were made redundant this year and that four times that number of jobs were not renewed. As has been said, the school work force statement issued today has given no comfort that things will get a great deal better. It has certainly given the teaching unions and schools no such comfort, and those figures, which show a decline, were documented before the current fiasco, so there may be worse figures to come.
It is worth standing back and asking who—apart from parents, staff and the Government—is a significant casualty of this sad episode in educational history, where the Government got their sums wrong, as we all have to acknowledge. My local constituency research seems to show that there is another major and perhaps unspoken casualty—classroom assistants. Their terms and conditions of employment are less certain and it might be easier to let them go when financial circumstances get worse. Any sizable reduction in their numbers could have near fatal consequences on the work load agreement. There seem to be problems with the agreement anyway—perhaps expectations are pitched too high—but whatever its merits, it will not work if budgetary pressures lead to the shedding of support staff. That piece of information might be shown to be true later this year.
Added to that, no Minister has given any guarantee that the money for the work load agreement will be ring-fenced. For all that I understand, it might well be muddled in with other expenditure. The money will be in the local authority grant and people will be asked to identify it. That might be a symptom of Treasury caution overriding the natural generous instincts of Education Ministers. I shall be glad if the Minister contradicts me on that point but I doubt that he will, and nor do I think that he will give me any guarantee that no child will be taught by unqualified staff next year—we have every expectation that many will.
To sum up, there is clear substance in the Opposition's charge that the Government have imperilled what is, on the face of it, a decent initiative. It must be said that there is little evidence of the Conservatives wanting to provide additional substantial resources to improve matters. We must accept that the Government are guilty of blundering rather than callous deceit. They have found their exposed position uncomfortable and they do not welcome a re-run. They know for a fact that educationalists are not stupid and that they are hard to deceive. Their only option now—I commend it to them—is to take the path of complete honesty and transparency. They should not hide behind local authorities or obscure formulae but give schools the financial stability that they need to do the job that the Government and the country want done.
Before I start my speech, may I apologise to the House? I am supposed to be at another meeting at the moment and I shall have to attend it when I conclude my remarks, although I shall be back as soon as I can afterwards. The great virtue of that is that it gives me the best incentive to keep my remarks as short as possible.
I especially wanted to speak in the debate because I could not help but feel that Opposition comments in support of the motion demonstrated a collective amnesia about, or airbrushing from, the educational or local government history of funding for education. I felt moved to speak because I was chair of finance for Sandwell metropolitan borough council for five years. The council is a major unitary authority in the black country that is typical of many deprived urban metropolitan borough councils with specific educational problems. I could not help but remember the funding arrangements that existed during the years when the Conservative party was in government.
I have researched a few statistics. Between 1992 and 1997, the collective cuts that Sandwell metropolitan borough council had to endure amounted to £42.9 million. I remember that because the local authority was so concerned about maintaining education in the borough that it tried to minimise the extent of the cuts that would apply to education. However, notwithstanding that specific policy, the fact that education represented 60 per cent. of its total budget meant that it could not make the cuts required to stay within its capping levels without affecting funding for education. Indeed, over that period there was an £18.3 million cut in education spending, an average of about £3 million a year.
If the hon. Gentleman is maintaining that the Government's difficulties are minor compared with what happened during the Conservative years, how does he account for the fact that Michael Clapham, who represents heads in east Yorkshire, said:
"In the last 12 years, this is far and away the worst budget settlement that I have had to manage as a head teacher"?
That includes the last six years of the Conservative Administration.
I cannot comment on Michael Clapham's perspective, but I know that my local authority is not alone in its experience. Between 1992 and 1997, my local authority shared a common experience with nearly every major industrial metropolitan borough authority in the country. I am sure that any head teacher within those authorities would make the same comment and I think that more head teachers would share that view of the situation.
The legacy of the funding policy that we inherited in 1997 was that although standards were rising in Sandwell, they were not rising fast enough. The local authority recognised that there was much more to do. We had a disproportionate number of schools with appalling physical accommodation, including a disproportionately high number of temporary mobile classrooms and a shortage of teachers. I am not whinging specifically on behalf of Sandwell; the experience was common to many local authorities. However, we recognised the challenges that faced us and we managed them.
I contrast that with the situation five or six years on. The national figures given by the Minister demonstrate the huge increase in education funding, which is now a higher proportion of our gross domestic product than when the Tories came into office. I can say for sure that it is paying dividends. Sandwell is one of the authorities involved in the excellence in cities programme and I know that there have been measurable improvements in key areas of our educational performance. Just last year, Sandwell's maths results were up 4 per cent., its science results were up 3 per cent. and its information and communications technology were up 10 per cent., all of which were above national targets. There is no doubt that that is a direct result of the investment in local authorities such as Sandwell.
Sandwell's A* to C GCSE results were up 2 per cent. Five of its secondary schools had their best ever results, two of them in my constituency. The results of Wood Green school, a specialist school benefiting from the range of funding available to such schools, are up 63 per cent., which is above its target of 50 per cent. In addition, virtually every school has improved its physical environment. There is investment in the infrastructure and that, too, is playing a part in improved standards throughout the borough.
The funding arrangement that existed before the arrangements were revised this year discriminated against local authorities such as Sandwell. We recognise that changing them would cause difficulties, but in the interests of both equity and improving the performance of areas that hitherto had suffered from underfunding and underperformance, it was necessary. However, the procedures incorporated into the revised funding arrangements to ensure that all local authorities benefited from a real-terms increase in funding were a fail-safe measure that never existed for authorities such as Sandwell under the Tory Government.
I believe that the Government's proposals for assisting with the budget arrangements of those local authorities that are having difficulties should, in future, play a considerable part in helping those authorities to sort out their short-term budget problems. I know from my local authority experience that the last-minute announcement of the funding mechanism causes schools enormous difficulties. The lack of flexibility in how they can use collective and individual balances, or the balance of capital and revenue expenditure, also causes difficulties.
The £800 million available as back-stop funding for schools in difficulties will be an enormous help in certain circumstances. We recognise that with the huge range of school funding regimes and the differences in local authority expenditure, it is incredibly difficult to provide a funding arrangement that will effectively protect every single school in the country from difficulties. However, the mechanisms that the Government have proposed will provide flexibility and assistance that I do not remember receiving from the previous Conservative Government when I had to cope with such funding problems.
The Government have handled a difficult situation with some sensitivity. We must recognise that this has been an exceptionally difficult year, with changes to teachers' pension and salary arrangements and a substantial drop in pupil numbers. A number of difficulties came to a head at once, but the Government have listened to local authorities, they have taken steps and they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is. Out of that will come a more effective, focused funding regime that will help the schools that most need it to raise standards where they most need to.
"Education, education, education" and "tough on the causes of crime" are very slick phrases that Labour has used, but the situation now is that the British people simply do not trust a word that the Government say.
I suspect that the Minister for School Standards has to go to another meeting, so I should perhaps first put on record my reason for speaking in this debate. As my hon. Friend Sir Teddy Taylor suggested earlier, representatives from Southend education authority were to meet the Minister at 3.30 this afternoon. There can be no criticism whatever of the Minister for his having to postpone the meeting. My hon. Friends called for this debate today, and it is just one of those things. It is not for me to speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East, but I suspect that he was disappointed because, much earlier, he had specifically asked for a meeting with the Secretary of State.
That being said, I say to the Minister for School Standards that I hope that nothing in my speech will sour the tone of our meeting, which I believe has been rescheduled for November. I am very anxious to work with the Government to get the best possible settlement for children in Southend.
Does my hon. Friend agree that as we have waited a while for a meeting, and it is now the beginning of September, we should have that meeting as soon as possible, not in November?
I know that the Minister will be abroad for a while on parliamentary duties. Many of the representatives coming from Southend are teachers and head teachers. It has been somewhat difficult to pull the dates together. I suspect that that is why—I say this gently to my hon. Friend—the meeting will be in November. Who knows, perhaps we might even be—
In an effort to ingratiate himself with the Government Front Bench, the hon. Gentleman might start by talking about the fantastic examination results that we have just had, where they have come from and whether the extra funding that we provided has made any difference to the results.
That is certainly on the list. I shall be joining the Minister in his congratulations to local children in Southend.
Given the amendment to the motion of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, the pattern of the debate is already established. The Opposition, as is our job, are holding the Government to account. The Government and their partners in crime, the Liberal Democrats, want to talk about what happened during the last Conservative Government. They do not want to consider what has been happening in the more recent past, and we are moving on to seven years of Labour government. They can try that, but it will not wash with the general public, who are interested only in what the present Government are doing. In terms of education, they will regret that since 1997 the Government have centralised everything. If I were to be asked to analyse where the money is going, I would say that too much is going on centralisation.
I suppose that the violins will come out now, but teaching used always to be seen as a vocation. Teacher retention was highlighted in a recent survey by the General Teaching Council, which found that across the nation a third of England's teachers are expected to leave teaching within five years. Among the main reasons cited by teachers for their wish to leave the profession are badly behaved pupils, an excessive work load, initiative overload and a target-driven culture. Thirty-four per cent. of teachers expect to leave the profession within the next five years. That says it all. Teachers no longer see their profession as a vocation.
I know that Labour will say, "Look at all the wonderful IT units that Members are being asked to open every week. Look at all the marvellous sports facilities. Trevor Brooking is opening a new sports facility next week at Belfairs school." However, the survey shows that teachers have never left the profession because they felt that they were teaching in a dump. It was never like that. I do not believe that teachers were leaving the profession because of physical circumstances. The situation is much more serious than that. I hold the Government to account because I believe that there has been centralisation.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is interesting to note that the survey does not show that teachers are mentioning pay? Is that not a reflection on the fact that the Government have invested in pay, and that that factor is not in the list?
It does not appear to be in the list in the survey, but it is on every other list.
I wish to respond to the intervention about examination results. Four of my five children are still at school. I rejoice with the Minister for School Standards that my oldest daughter got an A and two Bs and will be reading English and drama at Queen Mary college. It is a splendid university which rejected her father more than 30 years ago. I am delighted that St. Bernard's school did not only produce Helen Mirren; it was responsible for providing my daughter with a splendid education. My youngest daughter is about to start there. My other daughters are at Southend high school for girls and at Westcliff high school for girls. I never forget that it was the Labour party, supported by its partner in crime, the Liberal party, which did everything it could to undermine grammar school education. Opposition Members like to send their children to grammar schools, but we found in Southend that we had to fight Labour to retain our four grammar schools.
The House may also be interested in another piece of information. My research assistant comes from a staunch Liverpudlian family. His parents wanted the best for his son, so they sent him to a private school. He is a staunch Conservative because he wants to thank the last Conservative Government. When his father lost his job, the assisted scheme enabled him to stay and enjoy private education.
Someone who is still proud of Liverpool—I see that Mrs. Curtis-Thomas is in the Chamber, so I must be careful—and speaks with a strong Liverpudlian accent.
As for Southend, I am advised by our education department that we have nine primary vacancies, 19 secondary school vacancies for teachers and two vacancies in our special schools. The Minister for School Standards has probably had a chance to glance over the agenda for a meeting that we were going to have. We would have discussed the effects of Southend's low formula spending share settlement on schools' budgets in Southend and the passporting of £700,000 over and above the required sum. The second issue that we were going to explore was the marked effect of cuts on our high-achieving schools in Southend—sadly, Southend high school for boys has had to remove Latin from the curriculum for the first time in its history. We would have discussed those who have followed the Government's instructions in schools serving areas of considerable disadvantage, and the narrowing of the attainment gap. The Government have said that poverty is not an excuse for low achievement, but some of our schools are having to dismantle the staffing structure that has brought about excellent achievements. When the Secretary of State came to the Dispatch Box on the day before we rose for the summer recess, more money was pledged for next year but, of course, the damage had already been done.
The final matter that we wanted to explore with the Minister for School Standards was the borrowing that some schools have had to make from the local authority to get through this year. Next year's settlement will be low, and those schools simply cannot sustain that deficit.
I wanted to share with the House three comments by head teachers of schools in Southend. None of their letters was politically motivated—they were simply written when the ramifications of our financial settlement began to bite. I shall not name the first head, who said:
"I am not one of those headteachers who constantly complains about a shortfall in their budget. However, the proportion of my budget that has been attributed to staffing costs has risen from 82 per cent. last year to 90 per cent. this year. Obviously this makes all other aspects of school management difficult, although I have managed to set a balanced budget. This budget does not, however, allow for the extra staff and other resources that I would wish in order to achieve an improvement in school results."
National insurance contributions were mentioned by my hon. Friend Mr. Green, and the head teacher says that NICs, together with an increase in teacher pension contributions, are
"having a huge effect on a largely people-based environment."
That says it all. It does not matter what the schools are like—if there are no good-quality teachers, schools will struggle to provide the sort of education what we want.
The head teacher went on to say:
"The consolidation of teacher salary grades from point 9 down to 6 is also biting hard this year as more staff become eligible to apply for the upper pay threshold."
Finally, she said:
"By good housekeeping I am fortunate to have a carry forward figure that allows for some maintenance and refurbishment to take place, but I cannot do this from the . . . financial government income."
"several schools in Southend are forced to declare deficit budgets in this current year (including my own), and we are having to meet L.E.A. officers to draw up four-year recovery plans. In my school, we are in the absurd position of having a £3 million new extension project due to open in September, but we will not have the money to clean it or maintain it!"
That is an absurd situation.
The third and final letter comes from a head teacher at the largest primary school in Essex, which has the biggest education authority, although Southend is unitary. She says:
"Our school is very successful but also very vulnerable. Our current budget deficit of £170,000 will place our school at risk. Our success depends on good will. Redundancies and the threat of redundancies undermines the good will that keeps our school open to children and their families from 7.30 am to late at night . . . We have been told to come to terms with running a 'less successful school'. That can never be right especially in the current context with its emphasis on equal opportunities for all young people . . . We have made cuts. We are not replacing teaching staff and support staff who are leaving (value of £70,000)."
I hope that when we meet, the Minister will have had an opportunity to reflect on the points that I have made.
One of our local newspapers, the Southend Evening Echo, cribbed a recent story in The Sun calling for private tutors to be subject to the same legislation as state school teachers. I shall not name the gentleman in question, but it has come to light locally that a private tutor—I am thinking here of morale in teaching generally—is still teaching despite having been caught with indecent images of children on his home computer. He was not charged, but received a police caution and was placed on the sex offenders register for five years. Teachers are drawing to my attention the fact that, as the law stands, a person who is placed on the sex offenders register is barred from teaching in a state school, but not prevented from giving private tuition. Will the Minister reflect on that issue and perhaps write to me, so that we can at least have some guidance locally?
I come to the end of my speech feeling confused about how long it has lasted, as there seems to be a problem with the monitor. This year's funding crisis in the education system has led to what one head teacher calls
"far and away the worst situation I have ever had to manage."
The over-centralisation of education has created a situation of huge complication, and no one understands the way in which the system works. Despite showering the education system with money, the reality is that teachers and parents are all suffering the effects of the Government's regime of command and control.
I think that the Government, in their seventh year in office, have lost for ever the trust that they had. They have broken their promise that extra money would get to the schools where it would make a real difference to standards. That is what has happened in Southend. Parents and teachers have a right to be cross about the crisis in our schools. Thousands of children face the new school year with fewer teachers and support staff than ever before. For the Government to accuse local councils, schools and the School Teachers Review Body of being responsible for the funding difficulties is an absolutely shameless piece of buck-passing.
At the 1997 general election, we can all recall seeing in the wee hours of the morning all the Labour supporters gathered together, at a time when they thought that it was trendy to be associated with celebrities, to the sound of the D:Reem song, "Things Can Only Get Better". I do hope that they still have a copy, because the incoming Conservative Government will play it with relish.
Before I call the next speaker, I should tell the House that I am aware that the Annunciator is not working properly. This is the second day running that it has happened; I think that computers may have gone down. However, there are clocks under the Galleries that hon. Members can see—and, of course, the Chair keeps a very close watch on exactly how long they take in making their speeches.
Despite Southend's disappointment, I can assure the House that the Minister is making himself available to meet delegations from schools—I was pleased to accompany one from Medway earlier today. In my area, we have a standstill budget and there has been one redundancy. We welcome the additional £1.3 million of extra funding following our initial budget settlement, but the council had to go into its reserves, and for a small authority £3 million is not a sustainable sum. We have concerns about next year, but look forward to being given the details later in this Session.
The Select Committee on Education and Skills will certainly work rigorously on behalf of the House of Commons to ensure that the Secretary of State provides clarity and delivers on what he has told us about better settlements for schools. If hon. Members have any doubt about that, I point out that although it is a Labour-dominated Committee, the last time the Secretary of State came before it I was described on "Yesterday in Parliament" as the Tory MP for Chatham and Aylesford.
It is important to recognise what is happening today in the teaching profession. Ofsted reports that we have the best teaching work force that we have ever had; we need to say that a little more often. I have an interest, because yesterday my daughter had her first day at St. Katherine's school in Snodland in my constituency—an excellent school, led by an excellent head, with many new resources that are evident to parents and teachers alike. We should applaud the work that teachers do, which is delivered through students' examination results. Every year, we hear the same denigration of exam results. What does that say to students, parents and teachers? What does it do for their morale? If more students pass, the complainers say that exams are too easy; if fewer pass, they say that schools are failing. De facto, what they want is for results to remain the same for ever. Well, that is not going to happen, is it? It is reported that by 2010 some 180,000 to 250,000 extra students will be presenting themselves for university places. That is something to celebrate, but it also creates a demand for funding.
As well as acknowledging the work force, we must work out how to continue to recruit. The age profile of teachers is worrying. Within the next 15 years, 45 per cent. of teachers will be in their 60th year. That is a serious matter. The Teacher Training Agency reckons that it must recruit between 30,000 and 35,000 teachers a year. Complaints by Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen about the agency's advertisements therefore miss the point. We need more people to come into our schools and take advantage of the additional resources that the Government have provided, not least the £6,000 that is made available to students who take the courses.
I have spoken to several friends who are either on or have recently completed their teacher training. It is a very demanding course, which is reflected in Ofsted's claim that we have a skilled and able work force. However, we should consider some of the detail about our teacher work force. For example, we must examine the need to promote more ethnic minority teachers. There are currently 9,100 teachers from ethnic minorities in our schools. That is approximately 2.4 per cent. of the work force.
When the Select Committee visited Birmingham, concern about underperformance, especially of Afro-Caribbean boys, and the woeful lack of role models in schools was apparent. We met some role models, but they were few and far between. I am sure that all hon. Members would like there to be more. It is obvious that if we are to promote standards in all the different communities in our society, we need role models in front of the class. The Teacher Training Agency advises us that the position is improving and I know that Ministers take the matter seriously. All hon. Members should take any opportunity to encourage those from ethnic minority backgrounds to go into teaching.
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman's points. Indeed, I am proud to sponsor a reception by "Black Boys Can" later in the Session. He mentioned "promoting" more ethnic minority teachers; I wonder whether he meant "recruiting" many more, with which we would all agree, rather than promoting on merit, irrespective of race, colour or creed.
That is right. At the primary school of which I am a governor, we are fortunate in having two mature male teachers and one younger male teacher. That makes a genuine difference. The school is in a deprived socio-economic area and many pupils do not have a positive male role model outside school. The hon. Gentleman is therefore right and we have discussed the matter with the Teacher Training Agency. Again, we must consider not only teachers per se but detailed matters such as ways in which to get, for example, black teachers and male teachers into specific schools.
We should also do more to encourage mature students, who have had careers elsewhere. Increasing numbers are coming into schools, and the Open university advised the Committee that mature students progressed far more rapidly into senior management grades than younger students. They bring in their experience from outside. We should applaud the Government for the fact that the £6,000 is available, making it possible for many people to consider changing career and going into the teaching profession.
It is important to keep people in the profession. The Committee also heard about the wide range of initiatives being undertaken by local authorities, in terms of providing opportunities for teachers to leave their schools for a period and to take up certain initiatives, so that their careers can become more varied. People are increasingly looking for that, and those initiatives, which play a vital role in the infrastructure of our teacher workforce, are to be applauded.
The Conservative party is casting doubt on the future of local education authorities. New Zealand got rid of all its LEAs, but the Government there have now had to create their own authorities throughout the country. An infrastructure is required, when schools are struggling, to work out who is going to run the special needs provision, meet the transport requirements, and so on. Most schools cannot operate in isolation. I am sure that successful schools, which cater for the higher socio-economic groups in society, can do so, but schools in inner cities with particular needs need special support.
In Birmingham, the Committee noted the work of an education authority that was applauded by teachers and parents. That does not often happen. There are not always tangible outcomes that we can point to, to show that local education authorities have made a difference in terms of examination results. We know, however, that support—providing training, running effective services, and so on—is vital, and that support can be provided far more economically by an overarching body such as a local education authority.
Another important job that the Teacher Training Agency is doing is recruiting returners. There are thousands of people out there who have taught, and who have perhaps not considered returning to the classroom. "Golden comebacks" are now available—I think that they are worth between £2,000 and £3,000, but if I have got that wrong, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will advise me. Those are available across the board, but there is a question as to whether that should be the case. We heard from the employers—the Local Government Association—that the situation is not the same everywhere. In parts of the country, there are no recruitment difficulties whatever. Should a school with a full staff complement in an area that does not have a recruitment problem be eligible for that money? I am not sure that it should, when there are dire problems in our inner cities. It is better to use the money where the resources are needed the most. The Government should seriously consider better targeting the "golden comebacks".
On passporting money into schools, of course local education authorities should pass on money to schools, but they cannot pass it all on. It is easy for Members to criticise one another here today, but the fact is that the Government have increased the percentage share that goes into the delegated budgets. But we, as Members of Parliament, write to our directors of education when people come into our advice surgeries with concerns about the special educational needs provision for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism, for example, or about transport matters. If every penny is passed to the schools, where will the money come from to deal with the issues about which we make representations to the local education authorities? We all do it. We should reflect for a moment before saying that not all the money is being delivered to schools. We should bear in mind psychology and transport needs, for instance.
Given the Tories' record, when I consider the criticisms they make of the Government words fail me. I have been a governor of Kent schools for many years. Every October we would receive a note from the education authority telling us to start thinking about cuts. Head teachers say, understandably, that this is their worst year ever, but in fact it is their worst year ever under a Labour Government.
I believe that the Government are committed to improvement. There are so many examples of extra investment in all our constituencies. For instance, the school of which I am a governor had a nursery built under the last Labour Government's urban aid programme. There are only a handful of purpose-built nurseries in Kent, which has one of the largest education authorities in the country, because the authority consistently failed to spend to the level of its standard spending assessment. This school had to wait for an incoming Labour Government to enable its nursery to be refurbished under the new deal for schools against which both Opposition parties voted. That is the difference between the two sides.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was paying attention when I intervened earlier, so I shall repeat what I quoted then. He said that the current difficulties were the worst that had been experienced under a Labour Government. What would he say to the head of an East Yorkshire school, Michael Clapham, who represents a group of East Yorkshire heads? According to him,
"In the last 12 years, this is far and away the worst budget settlement that I have had to manage as a head teacher".
That includes six years under the last Conservative Government.
The hon. Gentleman need only look at the record and see how much has been spent on education. I cannot account for how much the Yorkshire authority passed to that particular school, and we see variations throughout the country; but the hon. Gentleman will know that, notwithstanding all the computer suites, new classrooms and additional learning support assistance provided in Bedfordshire, the same is happening in Kent and elsewhere.
I think the Government have acknowledged that this has been a particularly difficult year. The Conservative Government did not acknowledge that in any year; all that they did was cut and cut. It will take a long time for this Government to deal with the backlog that has resulted from the Conservatives' failure to invest, but I know that—as with the nursery in my constituency—they are committed to doing so.
Like others, I begin by congratulating pupils in schools in my constituency on their excellent work over the past year. Their results have been excellent. I also pay tribute to work in Bedfordshire's lower schools. Pupils at that stage do not take exams, but Studham lower school, of which I am a governor, was visited by the strategic director of education for Bedfordshire because it had done so well over the year. I congratulate the children, and also the excellent teachers and other staff who brought about such a high standard.
In the context of exams, though, I think there is a need for an independent Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, given the A-level fiasco of recent years and the beginning of a lack of trust in our examination system among the public. That lack of trust is a great pity, and it devalues the hard work and excellent results that we have rightly celebrated today.
The hon. Gentleman speaks of a fiasco and of undermining trust, but the Select Committee looked at this issue and in fact, very few A-levels were misgraded. When we looked at the picture closely, it was nothing like a fiasco.
The hon. Gentleman's Government made an excellent decision in making the Bank of England independent—it had not been done before and it proved successful—and with that in mind I would encourage him to be a little more far-sighted here. I can see absolutely no downside to making the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority independent; indeed, doing so would provide considerable strengths. It would offer a general reassurance to parents, pupils and teachers throughout the country that there was absolutely no interference whatsoever from Ministers of any Government.
It is no good looking at historical perspectives during this debate, for one very simple reason. We are talking about children's life chances as they go through school today, not the care and maintenance of some wonderful historic building. This is not a question of saving a little on exterior renovation this year because times are hard, and saying that we will come back to it in five or ten years' time. We know that children have one chance. They experience some critical times in their education as they go through lower school and enter middle school, so they must have the right environment. That is why the Opposition were right to call for this debate today, and to hold the Government to account for what has gone so very badly wrong this year. We do so in the hope that there will be no repetition in future years of what has happened this year, for the sake of all our children.
I shall return to a point that I have made twice already during this debate, because Labour Members seem to be experiencing some amnesia about what happened in previous years. They seem to think that everything was always terrible during the Conservative years, but many people have reinforced the comment by Michael Clapham, who represents heads in East Yorkshire, that this is the worst budget that he has had to deal with for 12 years. [Interruption.] I make that point a third time so that perhaps it might be heard. In my constituency, experienced governors of long standing who are incredibly committed to education have told me the same thing. Indeed, one governor actually put his own house on the line to protect his school's budget.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has made the same point three times now, but does he recognise that in 1997, funding in education as a proportion of gross domestic product was more than 20 per cent. lower than the current level? Does he think that results in his constituency would be better or worse if funding were cut by 20 per cent., which I believe is his party's intention?
That is something of a cheap shot, I am afraid. I stood on a manifesto pledge of increased education spending, to which I am personally committed. The hon. Gentleman can trade statistics, but I have told him what heads are saying about their current funding difficulties. We are talking about children in education today turning up at their schools at the start of this term and finding that there is a shortage of teachers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me. Will he accept that this is also the first year ever that there has been universal discontent among head teachers in Northern Ireland? Their discontent is such that they actually sent a delegation here to make representations to all parties, because of their concern at the shortfall in funding available to be spent for the benefit of pupils in Northern Ireland schools.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing the perspective from his part of the United Kingdom; indeed, he reinforces the point that I was making.
A look at the figures reveals the national picture. A survey undertaken by the Secondary Heads Association, in conjunction with The Times Educational Supplement, shows a reduction nationally of some 3,400 posts in English comprehensives. Of those, 730 were made redundant and a further 2,789 teachers and 1,152 support staff were simply not replaced. Furthermore, 75 per cent. of the lost posts were in schools where the roll had either remained static or had risen—a point made by my right hon. Friend Mrs. Shephard, a former Secretary of State for Education.
The hon. Gentleman is correct to identify concern about schools where teaching posts have been lost and teachers made redundant, but will he respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards earlier—that the figure for schools that have taken on extra teaching staff exceeded the loss figure that the hon. Gentleman just quoted? The net figure is in fact an increase in the number of teaching staff in those schools.
I am not sure that I entirely understand the Minister's point. He is looking at the national picture, but I have quoted figures from the national picture that do not seem to back up what he said. I agree with the Minister for School Standards that more people are coming into the teaching profession. That is excellent, but nationally we are talking about a loss.
I should like to talk specifically about my own constituency, which I obviously know well. On
I know from correspondence with many other schools in my constituency that those figures do not supply the complete picture. I can think of a lower school in Dunstable whose deputy head teacher has not been replaced this September, and the school managed its deficit only by its head taking on an extremely heavy teaching commitment. That worries me because when a head has such a commitment, along with all the extra work in running the school, it amounts to an intolerable burden.
No, Bedfordshire is an area of great population growth. Currently the population of our towns and country areas is growing, though none of the schools that I mentioned is in a rural area. It is not an area of population decline. That may be the hon. Lady's experience, but it does not apply to Bedfordshire.
The spectacle that we witnessed earlier this year—of the Government trying to blame everyone other than themselves—was not attractive. Local education authorities were first singled out for blame, but when the figures were examined, it was found that few had behaved improperly. My own authority of Bedfordshire was proved to have passed on all the money that it should have done—and, indeed, more.
I am extremely concerned about the governors and head teachers who have to set school budgets at the start of every year. In common with many other hon. Members, I would like to see an increase in the core mainstream funding of schools from around the present 70 per cent. to a much higher figure of perhaps 80, 85 or even 90 per cent; and a reduction in the 30 per cent. that schools have either to bid for or are allocated later in the year. There a number of very good reasons why we should do that.