Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn) : I beg to move,

That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for the divisiveness and failure of its schools policies ; notes that Britain now spends a lower proportion of its national wealth on education than in 1979, that fewer children receive nursery education, that a lower proportion of young people stay on in full-time education post-16 than in competitor countries, and that teacher morale has never been lower ; and believes that unless there is effective investment in education and training with a properly valued and well motivated teaching profession, the Government will fail the next generation and further undermine Britain's economic prospects. The Government's schools policies have clearly failed. Britain's teachers are underpaid, demoralised and leaving the profession. Children have to learn in squalid, underfunded conditions. The whole system is overloaded with hasty and ill-considered changes. Worst of all, the Secretary of State is blind to the scale of the problems that he now faces, as the complacent claptrap of the Government's amendment makes clear.

When the Secretary of State replies to the debate, he will no doubt feed the House with a series of comforting platitudes about the Government's record and intentions. He will ask us to accept his claim that there has been no deterioration in teacher resignations, no overall change in teacher supply during the last few years--as though the mid-1980s was a golden age of English education, when standards rose, choice was extended, books and equipment were plentiful and every child had a permanent, properly qualified and well-paid teacher in front of his or her class. However, Sir Keith Joseph was in office those few years ago, to be followed by the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker).

What this Secretary of State must grasp is that the crisis over which he presides has arisen not just in the six months during which he has been in office, although it may sometimes seem that way. Instead, this crisis is the consequence of the accumulation of 10 years of damage and neglect ; 10 years in which one year's flight of experienced teachers out of the profession has turned the screw on the next year's ; 10 years in which one year's cuts in books and equipment and redecoration has compounded the next year's ; 10 years in which each year's lack of investment means a generation of children who have been denied the educational choice--

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw : I shall give way in a moment.


Column 901

These have been 10 years in which each year's lack of investment and intellectual self-fulfilment has meant a generation of children denied the educational choice and intellectual self- fulfilment to which they are entitled. They have been 10 years in which the nation has fallen further behind our competitors in its skills and ability to compete.

A rising proportion of parents now believe that the general standards of education have fallen in the past few years. An overwhelming proportion of the electorate believe that the Government want to run down public services such as education and health. And the difference between the Secretary of State and the electorate is that the electorate have direct experience of the Government's neglect of education--he does not.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one of the most notable reforms of the Conservative Government, especially in London, was the abolition of the Inner London education authority. Will he give me an unequivocal answer : will the Labour party bring back an Inner London education authority or not?

Mr. Straw : As I shall say later in my speech, there is no question but that the gratuitous and unwarranted abolition of the ILEA has made a difficult situation for teacher recruitment much worse in inner London ; I know that as a parent. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is : no, I do not give that unequivocal assurance. Nor have I ever given it, because, unlike Conservative Members, we care about the education and about the children of inner London. Having seen the damage caused to them by one disruption, we shall not, in a cavalier way and without consulting parents or teachers, force further change. When we have won the next election, we shall carefully consult the boroughs and parents and teachers about what arrangements they think best for the education of the children of inner London.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : Is my hon. Friend also aware that, the interjection by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), notwithstanding, the Inner London education authority was abolished against the wishes of the parents and teachers of London? The hon. Member for Surbiton, who lives in the borough of Wandsworth, knows that meetings were called there at which total opposition to abolition was expressed--and the hon. Gentleman was never at the meetings.

Mr. Straw : Of course I understand what my hon. Friend says. The abolition of ILEA was an act of political spite with no educational justification. Those of us with children in ILEA schools have seen the difficulties that those schools have had to face in the past two years because of the Government's deliberate disruption of children's education and of the administration of education. Ministers' children do not go to school in ILEA or any other--

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) rose --

Mr. Straw : I must get on.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) rose --

Mr. Straw : I shall give way in a moment. Let us examine the record of the past 10 years. The first Secretary of State, then Mr. Mark Carlisle, was a well-intentioned wet who tried but failed to save education from the first and most savage round of cuts in 1980-81. He was


Column 902

followed by Sir Keith Joseph, sincere, indecisive to the point of paralysis, whose inability to produce a settlement of the two-year teacher dispute and whose failure to secure resources for the system tested our education service almost to the point of destruction. It is perhaps as well to remember that the new chairman of the Conservative party was put in to repair the havoc wrought by Sir Keith, but he left the service in an even worse state than that in which he found it. The right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) is the master of the gimmick and the quick fix--the "here today, I'm off tomorrow" approach to policy. The man who landed the Government with the poll tax and the student loans scheme was also the architect of the lethal combination of city technology colleges, opting out, the local management of schools, an inflexible national curriculum, and the constant denigration of the teaching profession which has brought the service so low.

Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West) rose --

Mr. Straw : I will give way in a moment.

In 10 years, the proportion of national wealth devoted to education and training has fallen. Except in Labour areas, far fewer children in England receive the benefit of a nursery education than in our European competitor countries.

Perhaps the greatest test of any system is the proportion of young people who complete their compulsory school education with recognised qualifications and stay on beyond 16 in full-time education or high-quality training. On that test, the Government's record over the past decade is a national disgrace. The life chances of half a generation have been wasted. Fewer young people stay on after 16 than in any of our major competitor countries.

Moreover, the proportion staying on after 16 in full-time education has, as statistics from the Department of Education and Science show, barely moved- -from 33 to 35 per cent.--despite a rapid decline in the size of the age group, which should have led to a dramatic improvement in opportunities.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : The hon. Gentleman is talking about spending. Will he explain why yet again, the Inner London education authority spent the most on secondary school pupils but came 88th in the examination league? Before he says that it is because of the composition of London, will he explain why Wigan, which spent £1,000 less per pupil, came 15th in the examination league?

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : The hon. Gentleman should know the answer.

Mr. Straw : Yes, the hon. Gentleman should know the answer. The figures that he gave distort relative examination performance. As the Department's statistical bulletin makes clear, when an adjustment is made for the social input and intake of children in ILEA, it comes not 88th but 46th in the league. The hon. Gentleman should know that the costs of services in inner London are much higher than outside. Proportionately, it costs less to run ILEA than the social services department of the Conservative-controlled City of Westminster, and much less than running the Government-controlled Metropolitan police.


Column 903

I return to the Government's lamentable record on 16 to 19-year-olds. The excellent report, "Towards the Skills Revolution", from the Confederation of British Industry, says :

"Britain has one of the lowest rates of participation in post compulsory education and training of all"

western

"countries, producing a much smaller number of school leavers educated to the standard required of a modern economy Even in the newly industrialised nations in the Pacific Basin, far more people remain in education and training after the end of compulsory schools"

than in Britain.

Other countries have clearly established targets to raise standards and participation. South Korea proposes, within a decade, to get 80 per cent. of its young people to university entrance standard. The Socialist Government of France say that 75 per cent. should achieve university entrance standard. Labour has proposed the setting of similar targets for Britain--the doubling of participation for those aged between 16 and 19 within a decade, with clear machinery for ensuring that locally realistic targets are set and funded. After 10 years in office, where is the Government's programme for extending participation for those aged between 16 and 19, and where are their targets for that age group? They have none. The one reform that the Government could have implemented at little extra cost--the broadening of the 16-to-18 curriculum with a five-subject A- level, as recommended by the Higginson committee--was vetoed last year by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : How quickly does the hon. Gentleman think that the numbers participating in higher education could be doubled? As he is asking for more resources, will he say why Ealing council has cut its education budget by £2.5 million but increased its rates by 32 per cent.?

Mr. Straw : I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of Labour's policy review and a copy of "Children First", which sets out Labour's policy in detail. Ealing is in the same position as every other local education authority : the Government have imposed completely unrealistic targets on it which, if it meets them, will result in the closure of classrooms and the sacking of teachers.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West) rose

Mr. Straw : No, this is supposed to be a short debate and I have given way five times. There is lots of talk from this Secretary of State and his partner, the Secretary of State for Employment, about the need to improve education and training between 16 and 19, but precious little action, because this Secretary of State knows, as a former Treasury man, that if there is to be improvement in education there must be investment in it, and that is the one thing that the Government have resolutely refused to do.

In the past 10 years, the Government have deliberately cut their investment from the centre in the running and in the building of schools. In 1979, Government funded £6 of every £10 spent by local authorities ; today, they fund only £4.50 of every £10. The Government have cut their investment in the running of schools by over 25 per cent. in real terms, and the modest improvement in total spend


Column 904

is entirely accounted for by local authorities and ratepayers who, year by year, have had to spend in advance of Government guidelines just to maintain a half-decent service. So underfunded is the service that in many parts of the country parents are forced to raise thousands of pounds to pay for essential books and equipment, but where the parents of a school do not have that kind of money, their children go without.

At Rottingdean school in Brighton, children are now to be charged £9 each for the use of a school locker.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : What has that to do with education?

Mr. Straw : If that has nothing to do with education, perhaps Government Members and the Secretary of State will tell me whether the arrangements for charging at the Bligh county infants' school in Kent, a state school, have nothing to do with education. This county primary school has made arrangements, as schools up and down the country do, to admit children who are rising five, those whose birthday falls in the summer term. They have done so especially this year because of anxiety among parents that, unless their children are now admitted, they will miss out on the nine terms of education that other children will receive before the national curriculum tests at the age of seven.

The parents of the 25 children rising five who were admitted at the start of this term are being charged £11 a week for tuition fees--this is in a state school.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : Why not?

Mr. Straw : The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) asks why not. I will tell him. One, it is almost certainly illegal ; two, if it is not illegal it is in breach of very clear commitments from the Treasury Front Bench.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) rose --

Mr. Straw : I will give way on this issue to the Secretary of State and no other.

I spent this morning checking whether the report in the Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham News was correct. I spoke to the headmistress and to the reporter of the story, and my office spoke to the divisional education officer. The story is correct in every particular. Kent county council now says that it is not a class for rising-fives but a pre-school playgroup. We asked the divisional director of education whether, if it was a playgroup, playgroup leaders were in charge of the class. We were told that it was a trained teacher on the roll of the infants' school. We asked whether the children were playing or learning. We were told that they were not playing, that they were learning. We asked who was paying the teachers. The county council is paying the teachers, we were told, but the parents are paying the county council. It is schooling, not a pre-school playgroup.

I now offer the Secretary of State a chance to intervene. Will he promise to investigate, under sections 68 and 99 of the Education Act 1944, whether Kent county council's actions are lawful, reasonable and consistent with Government policy or whether this is, as we believe, the start of fee- paying in state education? The right hon. Gentleman does not wish to speak.

Mr. Dunn : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?


Column 905

Hon. Members : Give way.

Mr. Straw : I give way.

Mr. Dunn : I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Gentleman has finally given way. I know that he likes to take these matters seriously, because I believe that he wishes to be remembered for that. He must understand, however, that the quality and range of education in the county of Kent are supported by the people of Kent. If the hon. Gentleman had his way, the range, variety and concept of schools in the county of Kent would not exist for five minutes under a Labour Government.

Mr. Straw : I have no idea why I accepted my hon. Friends' invitation to show my usual generosity and give way to the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). He did not answer the point ; nor did the Secretary of State, and his silence is revealing.

One of the schools governors, the Rev. Steve Wallis said that the school had to charge parents for what their children would receive in any other educational authority because

"Kent Education Committee refused to fund such classes". That is shameful and outrageous, and the Secretary of State should condemn it.

Current spending by central Government has been cut ; so has capital spending, which is down 25 per cent. in real terms in 10 years. The Secretary of State will not give the figures since 1979, but even since 1981--a year of cuts--there has been a catastrophic cut in the amount invested in the nation's schools. As Labour's campaign has highlighted, we have a nation of crumbling schools and schools with leaking roofs, rotting windows, classrooms that have not been redecorated for years and classes housed in split sites, prefabricated buildings and buildings that are way past their useful life.

This morning, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) told me that in his constituency, at the Birmingham Padget junior school in Pipeboys, the ceiling of one of the classrooms had collapsed yesterday evening. If that had happened during school hours, many children would have been injured.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : The problem was worse than that. A ceiling in a corridor collapsed. For two years, school staff, parents, the council and I have been trying to get money to get the roof repaired. The city council has said that it has a growing backlog and inadequate funds. This puts children at risk.

Mr. Straw : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving that detail. Birmingham has not been able to repair that classroom because it has not received the requested capital allocations from the Government. This year, capital allocations for England are just 64 per cent. of the 1981 level. Next year, despite all the bally-hoo from the Secretary of State, they will be £67 million less than in 1981. They are wholly inadequate to make up for the neglect of a decade.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : Has my hon. Friend seen the school magazine "In Our Own Words"? The magazine was originally produced in Warrington, has become a national magazine and is about to go international. It is designed and edited by children, and all the contributions are by children. The magazine has been supported by Cheshire council and received substantial


Column 906

grants from the council. When it applied for a tiny amount of money centrally, because it was now a national production, the request was refused. Is that not a disgrace?

Mr. Straw : Yes, it is. If Cheshire county council spent at the target set for it by the Government, the teachers who are running that excellent project would have to be fired.

Throughout the country, desperately needed repairs and improvements have been delayed yet again by the Government's failure properly to meet local authorities' capital requirements. St. John's and St. Clement's Church of England primary school in East Dulwich is on two sites, one a converted church hall. Children have to walk back and forward across a busy main road. Its rebuilding is at the top of the diocesan list for Southwark, but it has been vetoed yet again by the Secretary of State.

In Bradford, the Buttershaw first school had three temporary classrooms which could not be used, so children had to be bussed four miles across the city to watertight premises. At last the city council has said that it will replace the classrooms, but I understand that they are being replaced not by permanent classrooms but by further temporary classrooms.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Does my hon. Friend accept that there are now 600 temporary classrooms in Bradford, many of which have been temporary for so long that they themselves are falling down, as were the classrooms at Buttershaw, and that even Tory-controlled Bradford has been denied about £20 million when it asked for £30 million capital expenditure to improve the shanty town and crumbling Bradford schools? The Tory Government cut the amount to below £10 million.

Mr. Straw : I accept what my hon. Friend says. My hon. Friends who represent Bradford have run a brilliant campaign to draw attention to the state of the city's schools. There is scarcely a city with schools in a worse state. The conclusion we draw is that that is directly related to the fact that there is a Conservative council in charge.

While Britain's county schools are starved of cash, the Government continue their support for city technology colleges. No programme has been such a comprehensive and expensive failure. Twenty were promised by last month ; we have three. Most of the money was supposed to come from business. Instead it has come in the main from the taxpayer. Nearly every blue chip company has boycotted the programme. What support there is has come from the sleazy, the failing and the second-rate--from American car auctioneers, ADT Securities ; from the nearly-bust Lowndes Queensway ; from the bid victim Dixon's. The Secretary of State knows that the scheme is a failure. He has already limited CTCs to 20 in total, and has described the original programme of his predecessor as over-ambitious. He knows that the policy is wasteful and wrong, so why does he not scrap it altogether and immediately save £120 million, which could be spent on a crash programme of repairs and improvements, as we have demanded?

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : Apart from the fact that parents are queuing up to send their children to CTCs, will the hon. Gentleman explain why teachers prefer to move from the state sector to work in city technology colleges?


Column 907

Mr. Straw : I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman does not understand why. If as is happening in Nottingham, more is spent on a single school, than the Government have allowed Nottinghamshire county council to spend on over 450 schools in its area, if money is lavished on school buildings and if the teachers are paid more, of course many parents will apply for their children to join that school and many teachers will prefer to work there. That does not make the policy right. It exposes the hypocrisy and double dealing of the Government in regard to the majority of children.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : Is my hon. Friend aware that the capital allocation to the city technology college in Gateshead is larger than the amount available for all the other schools in Sunderland this year?

Mr. Straw : Is it any wonder, therefore, that the rest of the schools in Sunderland face such difficulty?

Mr. Flannery : Will my hon. Friend accept that the nonsense talked by Tory Members conveys the impression that teachers go along with the policy? The reality is that teachers in Nottingham are outraged because so much money is being spent on one school and a handful of teachers. Does my hon. Friend accept that other children and parents are angry at what is happening? [Interruption.] Tory Members all know that that is true.

Mr. Straw : I am aware of that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Investment in education has been cut by central Government and the system has been overloaded almost beyond endurance by ill-considered, divisive, meretricious initiatives.

We warned two years ago that the Government's national curriculum was far too inflexible, much more a state syllabus, and that schools could not operate it in full and meet the other educational and social needs of their children. So it is turning out. The national curriculum is imploding under its contradictions. The testing arrangements are obscure, but potentially a nightmare, especially at seven and at 16, when Ministers have yet to explain how GCSE and national curriculum testing will fit together.

The Prime Minister is trying to make the history syllabus a partisan instrument. Schools are weighed down with paper. Local management of schools could have resulted in sensible delegation of some local education authority cash and functions. Instead, it is forcing many schools to choose between teachers and books, posing them impossible choices and putting schools under a financial incentive to dispose of experienced teachers and to employ the cheapest and the youngest.

There are more than 1.25 million surplus school places, wasting £240 million in premises costs alone. However, the responsibility for the lack of progress in removing those places lies with the Secretary of State. Opting out has scarcely been a success, but the possibility of opting out has paralysed the prospects for sensible schools reorganisation in many parts of the country, especially as Ministers have allowed schools to opt out to escape closure or reorganisation. Given all that, is it any wonder that the morale of the teaching profession

"is lower than it has been for fifty years, that teachers feel unappreciated, that the Government reforms have certainly not treated teachers as professionals"?


Column 908

Those are not my words, but the words of the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), a former Conservative Education Minister, at a speech to the constituency Conservative association of the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, last weekend.

The right hon. Member for Brent, North was right to say that the blame for the collapse in morale lies firmly on Ministers. The Secretary of State may comprehend that he is reaping the whirlwind for the way that his predecessor treated teachers as the whipping boys of society. However, he has yet to acknowledge the scale of the problem over which he is presiding, rather than repeatedly making light of it.

Britain has been short of properly trained permanent teachers throughout the mid and late 1980s. However, a bad position is now becoming much worse. The percentage of teachers qualified in the subject that they are teaching actually dropped between 1984 and 1988. The percentage of graduates entering teaching halved during the 1980s. Half of those who train to teach are not in teaching after five years ; some may later return, but there are as many people with teacher qualifications not teaching as there are teaching. Today, thousands of our best and brightest teachers are getting out, either to other jobs, to no jobs, to go abroad or to retire early. Yet again, the Secretary of State will no doubt trot out his claim that only 1 per cent. of teachers--around 4,000--have been leaving teaching for other jobs. He knows that that figure grossly understates the real wastage in the profession. The report of Professor Alan Smithers, of Manchester university, states that, if one strips out those changing teaching posts and those reaching normal retirement age,

"we arrive at a provisional departure rate of 4.9 per cent." That is nearly 20,000 teachers--not 4,000--for 1989. He said : "This is likely to be an under-estimate, but it is nevertheless five times the aspect of wastage commonly referred to by Government Ministers".

The Secretary of State will also claim that the acute problem is confined to inner London. As Ministers have acknowledged, all London Labour boroughs have worked with a will to make the transfer of education responsibilities to them as smooth as possible. However, as I said earlier, there is no question but that the gratuitous abolition of ILEA has greatly contributed to the problem of recruiting new teachers in inner London. Despite the problems that inner London boroughs' now face, Ministers have yet to respond to the joint Labour and Conservative boroughs, initiative on housing, which was sent to them two months ago.

The figures for the country as a whole show a slow but steady worsening of shortages outside London, and across the country, with one head teacher and LEA after another reporting more and more difficulty in recruiting candidates of adequate quality.

If the Secretary of State denies that, let him answer three questions. First, can he guarantee that no child will be without a properly qualified permanent teacher in his or her class this year, next year or the year after? Or is he willing to give that guarantee only in respect of children who go to private schools?


Column 909

Secondly, if there has been no change in the situation, why has advertising of teacher appointments in The Times Educational Supplement increased by nearly 60 per cent. in two years? Thirdly, if there is no problem outside London, why did the schools sub- committee of his own, Tory-controlled Norfolk county council have on its agenda on 6 December last year, for the first time in its history, an item dealing with teacher shortages? Can the right hon. Gentleman explain the report in the Eastern Daily Press, which said :

"Nearly one in five Norfolk secondary school teachers are expected to leave their posts this year, new figures have revealed. The number of primary school teacher resignations has also soared"?

If there is no problem outside London, where do those stories come from? I am prepared to give way to the Secretary of State if he has an answer.

The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) said in the House on 5 December :

"if we are beginning to have problems in Norfolk, whatever must it be like in other parts of the country?"

The hon. Gentleman continued :

"It is no good"

the Secretary of State

"pretending that the problem does not exist. It is no use pretending that, while money will not solve everything, we can expect a highly motivated teaching profession if we do not reward teachers accordingly."--[ Official Report , 5 December 1989 ; Vol. 163, c. 286.]

But teachers will not be rewarded accordingly by this Secretary of State. This Government's stock in trade is pretence.

The Secretary of State will tell us that teachers' pay has risen by 40 per cent. since 1986. So it has, but the right hon. Gentleman omits to tell us that, before 1986, teachers' pay had fallen grievously behind. A comparison of teachers' pay in 1979 and teachers' pay today shows that it is £1,000 less today that it would have been had it simply kept pace with increases in non-manual earnings over that period.

The Secretary of State has cash-limited the interim advisory committee on school teachers' pay and Conditions to £600 million, to give teachers an increase lower than the rate of inflation. When he fixed the cash limit in September, the Secretary of State wrote to the Chilver committee that inflation

"will continue to decline further in the months ahead". In fact, inflation has risen. What allowance will the Secretary of State make for that? Does he not understand that, if the cash limit is not lifted, teachers will not be properly rewarded, and that if they are not properly rewarded, they cannot be retained?

How will local authorities be able to keep the teachers they have if they observe the Government's poll tax spending targets? The Government's poll tax spending targets mean that education authorities across the country-- Tory as well as Labour--will have to cut their budgets by more than 3.5 per cent. Let the Secretary of State say, now or in his speech, how many teachers will have to be fired and how many classrooms closed if those targets are met.

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood) : None.

Mr. Straw : The Minister's PPS says, "None." Does the Minister himself say, "None"? Does he deny the claims made by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and the Association of District Councils? The simple truth is that there is not a local authority in the


Next Section

  Home Page