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Column 696encourage more young people to stay on at school after 16 ; it will do nothing to prevent taxpayers' money from propping up private education while the state sector is starved of resources. The debate has proved that the Government have a bankrupt policy towards education. We know that education is not safe in Conservative hands. The Government are indifferent, complacent and arrogant. Indeed, the Bill is the perfect example of how out of touch they really are. We accept that there are always problems to be tackled in any education system. However, Labour believes that key principles, such as equal opportunity and equal access, should be the foundations. We believe that self-confidence, self-discipline and self-worth should be the qualities that children take away from the education system. We believe that those should be linked to educational attainment. But, most important of all--and the Minister should listen to these words--education should be regardless of geography, regardless of income, regardless of social class, race or religion.
We believe that educaton is a right, not a privilege. Education is the most productive investment in people, in communities and in the economy ; it is not a drain on the taxpayer. Education should be shared generously, not rationed. Education should be universal and free at the point of need. It should not be based on selection, or on the market, or on privilege. For all those reasons, we shall fight the Bill in the House and in Scotland and we shall vote against it. 9.39 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : I take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Membefor Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) to the Dispatch Box. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that I might live to regret it. His remark, which I hope Hansard will record, that
"We should be investing in failure"
may live to haunt him for some time to come. Having listened to his speech, I understand why that might be the conclusion he would reach at the end of his argument.
I noted that the hon. Gentleman said that the Scottish education tradition had been painstakingly built up over the past 30 years. Many hon. Members have benefited from Scottish education, and they believe that it took rather longer than that.
The hon. Gentleman described the Bill as a piece of educational vandalism. If it is a piece of educational vandalism, he has put parents in the role of lager louts. None of the self-governing status provisions in the Bill will be achieved without taking into account the wishes of the parents in the schools concerned. Opposition Members have consistently failed to recognise that this legislation--unlike the school boards legislation--is permissive. The hon. Gentleman referred to the cuts that had been made by Labour-controlled local authorities, in the main, which decided on alternative priorities. He did not mention that expenditure per pupil in Scotland has risen by nearly 40 per cent. in real terms since 1979, that pupil ratios are far better, that expenditure on books and equipment has risen by 20 per cent. in real terms and that provision for local authority current expenditure next year is set to rise by 7 per cent. on the current year. I accept that the last Labour Government did not do as well--not out
Column 697of malice because of their views on education but simply because of their lack of competence in running the economy and creating the necessary wealth.
Mr. Forsyth : If the hon. Gentleman looks into that question, he will find that the pupil-teacher ratio has improved. When the hon. Gentleman and his friends in the Educational Institute of Scotland get together and discuss the creation of more generous terms and conditions for teachers, they will find the answer to that question. I make no bones about that.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the self-governing schools being taken out of the state sector. They will not be taken out of the state sector. They will continue to be funded by the state. They will be run by boards of management.
Another point that has not been made in the debate and that Opposition Members do not appear to have taken on board is that the Secretary of State for Scotland will provide funding on the same basis as would have been provided by the local authority. It will not be for the Secretary of State to decide the level of funding. Schools that become self-governing in local authority areas where there are high levels of expenditure will benefit proportionately more. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I could guarantee that children from a neighbouring area to the catchment area of a particular school--I remind him that we do not have catchment areas in Scotland--would be guaranteed a place in a self-governing school or in any other school. I am happy to give him that guarantee, but that is no thanks to him and his party. The Opposition opposed us when we introduced the parents charter in 1980 that gave to parents the right to send their children to the school of their choice. The hon. Gentleman has been at great pains in the press and elsewhere to rubbish the fact that more than 20,000 parents every year are able to exercise that choice. He has argued that, compared with the total number of parents, that number is insignificant. Once again he has misunderstood the importance of a small number of parents being able to exercise choice and discrimination within the system.
I do not make a general practice of reading the Observer Scotland at the weekend, but I saw something this weekend which I feel I should quote because it is relevant to the debate. It says : "It is rarely sensible for a Labour spokesman to question standards of teaching ; it is unwise to suggest evaluation procedures which parents can actually understand ; it is anathema to advocate new ways of funding education, heresy to urge greater autonomy for individual schools, and unthinkable even to whisper that bad teachers must be weeded out with all speed.
The result is an alarming lack of new thinking."
I could not have put it better myself as a summary of the speeches by Opposition Members throughout the debate. That piece was written by a man called Ian Bell, and, judging from what he said about me, he is not a Government supporter. However, I felt almost certain that he must have read the hon. Gentleman's 21-page document outlining the Labour party's proposals.
Mr. Harry Ewing : As the Minister has referred to what the writer of that article said about him, will he read it out to the House? None of us had the privilege of civil servants drawing that article to our attention.
Mr. Forsyth : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find in the Library a copy of Sunday's edition of the Observer Scotland and he will be able to read its delights for himself. I shall not take up the time of the House on it now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) drew attention to the conversion of the Labour party to school boards. I welcome that. We were very surprised to be told in November that the Labour party was very much committed to school boards, when Opposition Members had used the arguments that they used tonight against self-governing schools--saying that they were irrelevant and were not wanted in Scotland. It was not until Boxing day that we discovered why the Labour party was suddenly forced to a conversion on school boards.
On Boxing day the Educational Institute of Scotland decided to issue a press release announcing to an unsuspecting world dealing with the aftermath of their Christmas dinners that the EIS had changed its policy and was now in favour of school boards. We learnt subsequently that it had changed its policy in November and the Labour party quickly came into line. Throughout the debate we have witnessed a party which has no idea and no policy and waits to hear what the major teaching union has to say before it can work out its own position.
I was fascinated by the views of the hon. Member for Fife, Central on testing. He told us that our views on testing were inappropriate and not necessary for Scotland. I remind the House that we propose to introduce testing in primary 4 and primary 7 in English and mathematics. The hon. Gentleman is a former leader of Fife council and very proud of the record of Fife region, so hon. Members can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the education authority in Fife has testing in primary 1, primary 3, primary 5 and primary 7.
Mr. McLeish : It is widely known in the best circles of Scottish education that Fife became involved in diagnostic testing. It is sick and tired of the Government's attempt to force down its throat nominative testing which bears no relationship to IQ, potential or social background, but is a recipe for league tables and selection. Yes, Fife has diagnostic testing. Why does not the Minister allow the teaching unions, the local authorities and parents to devise testing procedures which are in the interests of children and not in the interests of political policies?
Imagine my surprise to find that the Labour party in Central region split. The hon. Gentleman obviously does not know that it split over a proposal by Mrs. Margaret Connarty, who is described in The Scotsman on 2 March as
"the teachers' representative on the education committee" and a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland. She proposed to get rid of the diagnostic testing which the hon. Gentleman has just told us he favours and the Labour group split both ways and was only saved by other
Column 699opposition members. A certain councillor Corrie McChord--one of the six angry Labour members who voted for her motion--is on record as saying :
"We have already been contacted by the group whips, and it looks as if we could be subject to group discipline. I am being told by the Scottish executive, the regional party, and my constituency party, to oppose testing. Yet this happens. It's crazy."
What is the Labour party's policy on testing? Is it in favour of some types of testing, or is it opposed to all types of testing? Why is it that Fife has successfully carried out testing proposals which the hon. Gentleman knows are so much in line with our policies? There is no question of people being put in league tables. We made that clear in our original consultative document. If the hon. Gentleman is defending what happens in Fife, he is supporting what the Government are proposing.
Mr. McLeish : The Minister is not listening. Does he know the difference between normative and diagnostic testing? Does he know the difference between policies aimed at children and those aimed at league tables? Fife has an excellent system. The Minister's proposals will lead to league tables and selection in the opted-out sector. They are not about children. Tell the House.
Mr. Forsyth: I do not know how to cope with hon. Members who will not accept assurances given in consultative papers which say that there will be no league tables and that the results will be kept confidential.
The hon. Gentleman is, however, right about one thing ; there is a difference between the sort of testing which is being carried out in Fife and that which we propose. There is only one difference. It is not that there will be league tables--the information will be kept private. We propose that parents should also get to know about their children's performance. In Fife, information is not passed on to parents. Therein lies the difference between us and Opposition Members, who do not believe that parents are entitled to be involved in schools or to have information. They think that it should be left to the professionals. They are entitled to put that that point of view, but they will get short shrift.
Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy) : I am sure that the Minister would not wish to mislead the House. Will he kindly withdraw his remark about Fife? I assure him that Fife regional council's teachers discuss the results of tests with parents. I know because my children have been through its schools. As he believes that diagnostic and normative testing are the same, will he give us any evidence that suggests that that is so?
Mr. Dewar : If the Minister is so worried about parents being consulted, why does he not consult them about his opting-out proposals and rely on their judgment? I find it astonishing that, in this comparitively lengthy speech, he has not yet turned his attention to a defence for his
Column 700principal and most controversial proposal-- opting out. He has succeeded only in chasing red herrings, and conducting what sounds a little like a personal vendetta against various people in his part of Scotland. Would he like to defend what the Government are about?
Mr. Forsyth : I am responding to the arguments that have been made in the debate. The fact that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have not made a single argument against the proposals for self-governing schools but produced a series of scare stories about selection and other matters is a problem for him. The hon. Gentleman asks me to respond to the arguments, and I shall respond to the arguments that have been made. His first argument was that the name was wrong--
Mr. Harry Ewing : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) made it clear that the Minister has misled the House. I am not saying that he did it deliberately. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy, I have two children who have gone through the Fife education system. We get results from teachers at every stage. It is not on for the Minister to make a statement and then to refuse to withdraw it. He has impugned the reputation of Fife regional council and the teachers in Fife. He should withdraw what he said, if he has any decency at all.
Mr. Forsyth : Hon. Gentlemen cannot complain that they do not receive answers to points of substance if they raise such points of order. I am glad that I have the hon. Gentleman's support in the view that it would be impugning the integrity of an education authority if one were to suggest that it was not providing information to parents about their children's performance in the way that the Government are planning.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) began his argument against the Bill by saying that the phrase "self-governing schools" was wrong. He suggested that we should use the term "grant-aided schools". [ Hon. Members :-- "Grant-maintained schools".] I should say "grant- maintained schools". Perhaps we avoided the term "grant-maintained schools" because we thought there might be some confusion with "grant-aided schools". [Laughter.] The Opposition Front-Bench Members may laugh about grant-aided schools. They represented a tradition of many hundreds of years of Scottish education and the Labour party destroyed them out of naked ideology. Let us not have any lectures from them about Scottish educational traditions.
The hon. Member from Garscadden also described the Paisley grammar saga as a bizarre story. That was a revealing comment because it went to the heart of his antipathy towards the Bill. He regards any option in which a school is supported by parents, as it was in Paisley, and in which people, under the parents charter, send children to the school of their choice, which allows them to frustrate the wishes of an education authority like Strathclyde, as bizarre. The Bill provides for a breaking of the monopoly of which the hon. Gentleman is so contemptuous.
Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Member for Garscadden said that there might be schools that wanted to take advantage of that, such as those facing closure and others that he described as being interested in snob value. There we have it. The wish to send one's child to a particular school, perhaps because it has a uniform, a tradition, a discipline or academic standards, is now to be denounced as snob value. I have news for the hon. Gentleman : there are many people throughout Scotland who wish to have the advantage of such schools, and I repudiate the thinking of the education authorities. The Bill provides an opportunity for such parental choice.
The hon. Member for Garscadden also talked about the position compared with that of schools in England.
Mr. Forsyth : He said that the only schools interested in opting out were those facing closure. For the record, 59 schools have been involved, 26 of which are not subject to closure. The hon. Gentleman also asked about voting and consulting the wider community. There will be an opportunity to consult the wider community. The ballot will be held and the Secretary of State will consult on the parents' views.
The most bogus threat was that the hon. Gentleman argued that opting out would mean bringing back selection. [ Hon. Members :-- "Where?"] We already have selection in local authority schools. We have made provision for children with special needs in Knightswood.
Mr. Forsyth : Yes Knightswood. Knightswood is an example of a school in the hon. Gentleman's own constituency which select children who are especially talented at dance for the school of dance. Self-governing schools would create an opportunity for schools to be established to provide for particular needs.
The Bill is a radical measure. It is the most radical change in Scottish education for a generation or more, and I freely admit that. Its potential is profound and the benefits it offers are obvious to some already. In time, they will be widely recognised. The concepts are novel, but as people realise what is on offer they will realise that they have a tool with which to reshape Scottish education to the great benefit of its users.
The Bill strikes a blow for freedom of choice, for diversity and for healthy competition. It promotes selection of the best kind--that is self- selection. We want to see parents and pupils selecting schools. That is the real issue, not whether schools can select pupils. It is no longer good enough that parents should have schools selected for them. It is no longer good enough that most parents have only one kind of school from which to choose. Uniformity breeds complacency and apathy.
Column 702The Bill is designed to promote excellence. Equal opportunity must mean equal opportunity to excel. I commend the Bill to the House. Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time : The House divided : Ayes 243, Noes 206.
Division No. 116] [9.59 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browne, John (Winchester)
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Cope, Rt Hon John
Currie, Mrs Edwina
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Emery, Sir Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Fishburn, John Dudley
Fookes, Dame Janet
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Glyn, Dr Alan
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Hampson, Dr Keith
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas