Previous Section Home Page

Column 910

country that could meet the standard spending assessments for education and other services without having to cut the number of teachers that it now employs.

In an orgy of self-congratulation, the Government's amendment refers to the "coherence" of their programme. I hope that, in his heart, the Secretary of State does not believe such nonsense. Certainly no one else does. As the Government's so-called coherent programme of reforms has been introduced, so public support for their policies has evaporated. That is why Conservative newspapers such as the Sun, the News of the World and The Mail on Sunday have severely criticised the Government's education record since Labour launched its "crumbling schools and teacher shortage" campaign. In contrast to the Government, we promise no wasteful, divisive gimmicks such as CTCs, assisted places and opting out. We have already spelt out and published a comprehensive programme for schools and teachers. We propose the setting of clear targets for staying-on rates, the establishment of an educational standards council, the reform of teacher training, the establishment of teacher training schools and a general teachers' council. We shall secure effective support for new teachers, a proper database for the teacher labour force and a career structure for teachers' assistants, make major modifications of the national curriculum and introduce local management of schools and a crash programme of repairs.

Above all, we promise a Labour Government committed to state education, investing in it and using it, and because the public increasingly--

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for nearly 40 minutes. That means that it will take well over an hour to launch a three-hour debate. There are many wise heads on both sides of the House, particularly on the Conservative Benches, and I wonder whether they could be given some consideration by the Front-Bench spokesmen.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : I repeat what Mr. Speaker said at the beginning : this is a short debate and I hope that all hon. Members will keep an eye on the clock.

Mr. Straw : This debate was called by the Labour party. I had hoped to make a shorter speech, but the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) will find in tomorrow's Hansard that at least 12 minutes, if not 15 minutes, of my speech were taken up in dealing with interventions from Conservative Members.

The public increasingly back Labour's constructive alternative proposals, and public support for our educational policies is rising sharply. At the general election, the Conservatives and Labour were level on the question of which party had the best education policy, but Labour now has a 20 per cent. lead.

If, as the right hon. Member for Brent, North said, teacher morale has never been lower in 50 years, there is a reason for that ; the reason is that, in 50 years, we have never had a Government who have treated teachers and children so casually, and who have so obstinately refused to invest in the nation's future. It is time for the Secretary of State to wake up to the crisis in education that is all around him. This Government's schools policy has failed, and I commend the motion to the House.


Column 911

4.46 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John MacGregor) : I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof :

"congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its coherent programme for securing lasting improvements in standards in schools through its policies for the National Curriculum, assessment and testing, for increased parental choice, and for greater autonomy for schools ; notes the increased expenditure since 1979 of over 40 per cent. in real terms per pupil ; contrasts these reforms with the neglect of relevant education policies by the last Labour Government and the absence of any constructive alternative proposals by Opposition spokesmen ; notes that the requirements of the National Curriculum, building on the successful introduction of GCSE examinations, enjoy widespread support in the education system ; and welcomes the enthusiasm with which governors, teachers and parents are seizing the opportunity to exercise more choice and greater autonomy in the management of their schools."

The Education Reform Act 1988 represents the culmination of a decade of work by this Government to create the conditions and framework to secure real and lasting improvements in our schools. The reform programme has been based on what needs to be done to raise standards. I have been quite clear throughout my period as Secretary of State that we need to raise standards substantially, and I am determined to do that.

Parents, employers and the public at large recognise that we must take a number of steps. We must define more clearly national objectives for what is taught in order to raise the expectations and achievements of pupils and teachers. We must guarantee a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils and improve the relevance of that curriculum to adult life and the world of work. We must improve the quality, standards and range of subjects taught for pupils of all levels of ability to match what is being provided by some of the best of our main competitor countries. I regard that as vital for our economic success in the 1990s. We must foster greater choice for parents, greater variety at local level, more control over their own budgets for schools, more responsibility for governing bodies, and greater involvement of local business people and parents in them. Much has already been achieved in all those matters. It was clear from the dismissal by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) of the national curriculum that he simply does not understand what the reforms are already achieving. Let me remind the House of a decade of action under this Government, in contrast to years of drifting under Labour.

Mr. Haynes : Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to be brief. The hon. Member for Blackburn complained that his speech had been lengthened by responses to interventions, so the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

Mr. Haynes : Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. MacGregor : I shall give way once.

Mr. Haynes : Does the Secretary of State agree that, if people have a choice and can go to a CTC, they should not expect to use the facilities of their local education authority? That is what people in Nottinghamshire think anyway.


Column 912

Mr. MacGregor : Many people in Nottingham think it wrong that children going to a CTC--I shall have more to say about CTCs later--should be deprived of extra-curricular activities for which their parents have paid through the rates. That is the wrong kind of discrimination.

I shall contrast the decade of activity under the Conservatives with what went before. Labour Members talked about examination reform. We acted. The introduction of the GCSE has already seen substantial improvements in teaching and learning ; it was noticeable that the hon. Member for Blackburn did not refer to those. Attainments have improved significantly. The proportion of candidates getting grades A to C has increased in just two years by about 15 per cent. The number of pupils staying on after the age of 16 rose in 1988 by about 10 per cent., the biggest single increase ever. That shows what our reforms are achieving. The available evidence suggests another substantial increase in 1989.

Her Majesty's inspectors report that those improvements, which are helping to motivate more children to positive achievement, are already beginning to improve the curriculum in the early years of secondary education. That is success, not failure.

We acted to introduce greater relevance and technical applications into the curriculum through the technical and vocational education initiative, known as TVEI. That programme is being supported by over £1 billion of new investment during the 14 years from 1983 to 1997. Every local education authority in the country is involved in TVEI. That is success, not failure.

We acted to put the Education Act 1981 on the statute book, ensuring a new deal for all pupils with special education needs. We acted to create 35,000 places in successful independent schools for bright pupils through the assisted places scheme, after the wanton destruction of the direct grant schools.

The hon. Member for Blackburn talked about greater achievement and attainment. The achievement of those pupils tells its own story. Over 90 per cent. of assisted places pupils last year gained grades A to C at GCSE, 86 per cent. gained grades A to E at A level and 70 per cent. of last year's assisted place leavers went on to higher education. That is success, not failure.

With schools now being able to manage much of their own budgets, we are now building on earlier legislation in 1980 and 1986 to give them greater freedom to take their own decisions. There are now thousands of new governors in our schools, representing a huge injection of new support from the community and from parents. Already, 83 schemes of local management have been approved in principle. From April, the great majority of LEAs will be introducing their schemes of financial delegation and formula funding.

There is widespread support for the principles of local management, and we shall be working with LEAs to ensure its success. That is why the Government are supporting a programme of over £100 million to assist schools in managing their budgets, through installing information technology systems and through training governors and staff. That is important reform for achieving success, not failure. We have acted to improve and increase the availability and quality of in-service training for teachers. In the last three years we have supported a programme of £600 million for in-service training through specific grant for


Column 913

both national and local priorities. I remember the priority that the last Labour government gave to in-service training for teachers. No wonder we heard nothing about that from the hon. Member for Blackburn.

At the same time, we have reformed and sharpened the focus of initial training through the work of the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. Contrast that with the wringing of hands by former Labour Secretaries of State, which was all that passed for action on that count under the last Labour Government. We will have substantially increased spending per pupil--up by 42 per cent. in real terms over the last 10 years. That is success. That compares with a cut of about 2 per cent. in the last five years of Labour government--that was failure.

Capital spending per pupil has increased by 10 per cent. in real terms over the same period, compared with the slashing of the school building programme under the last Labour Government because of the total failure of their economic policies.

I clearly remember how the school building programme was savagely cut under the last Labour Government because they went for over-ambitious spending targets in the first year or two, did much to destroy our economy, had to go to the IMF to be bailed out, and then we saw slashed capital building programmes for the three years thereafter. We had to pick up the problem from that point and make the improvements that we are now achieving.

Dr. Hampson : I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that the only time since the war when the proportion of young people going on to higher education fell was under the last Labour Government, due to the dramatic cuts that they made in education provision. In view of the complaints that Labour Members now make about the fall in GDP, their attention should be drawn to the fact that the latest OECD figures show the proportion of GDP in this country well ahead of Germany, only slightly behind--by 0.01 per cent.--that of Japan, and the same as in the United States.

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is right on both points. The illustrations that I have given and his point about higher education demonstrate how much hypocrisy there was in the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) rose

Mr. MacGregor : I will not give way again.

In short, while Labour dithered in the past, and still cannot make up their minds on how to improve quality, we have acted. Where they failed on educational expenditure, we have succeeded, as a result of the economic expansion that we achieved in the 1980s, in considerably increasing the resources devoted per pupil throughout the education system.

Mr. Straw : As the right hon. Gentleman is so proud of the amount being spent on education, may I ask him to comment on the policy of Kent county council, which is short of money and is charging rising-fives £11 a week for education? Does he approve of that policy?

Mr. MacGregor : I have a relevant part in my speech in which I shall reply precisely to that question-- [Interruption.] It will fit into the context better if I deal with it then.


Column 914

Mr. Simon Hughes rose --

Mr. MacGregor : I shall not give way again, having taken careful note of what Mr. Deputy Speaker and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) said a few moments ago.

I refute the charges of the hon. Member for Blackburn, and point to the considerable progress achieved on all fronts in the 1980s. We are on the right track. But of course--I accept this and have always said it--we still have a long way to go if we are to achieve the competitive, high-quality standards and performance that we require for the 1990s.

That is why we introduced the national curriculum and the many other measures contained in the Education Reform Act, the biggest reforms since 1944. I find it amazing that the hon. Member for Blackburn is so dismissive of the national curriculum and those reforms. We are pressing forward at speed with the national curriculum programme. It is a major challenge for everyone involved in education, and one we should all relish and welcome.

I suspect that secretly the hon. Member for Blackburn knows that that is right, but of course he cannot bring himself to give open support to the reforms carried through in that Act and in the national curriculum. There is widespread support and acceptance by teachers of the benefits which nationally agreed attainment targets and programmes of study are bringing to teaching and learning in schools.

The national curriculum is bringing new and welcome rigour to the curriculum planning of primary schools. I have made it clear in speeches at conferences where I have addressed members of independent schools that I hope that all independent schools will take up the national curriculum. As we get success with it, I believe that they will, because there will be a demand from parents that they do so, and the teachers will wish to respond. Clearer objectives and a supportive framework of what should be taught is bringing new life to the curriculum throughout our schools.

The fact that there is much enthusiasm for our approach is shown by the demands that I am now getting for the other subject areas to be brought fully and effectively within the national curriculum as soon as possible. Of course, there is lively debate about what they contain, and that is all to the good. I hope to publish the final report of the history group next month, geography and modern languages will follow in the summer, and I shall be making an announcement soon on music, art and PE.

There is widespread support, too, for the national curriculum to be underpinned by effective testing and assessment arrangements. In a survey of parental attitudes conducted by independent analysts last year, over three quarters of parents expressed support for regular testing and regular reporting of the results.

That is the Government's policy. Under the national curriculum, pupils will be assessed against clear national standards at seven, 11, 14 and 16. For the first time, parents will have reliable reports, throughout the country and at all those stages, about their children's progress, and teachers will have the information they need to tailor their teaching to the strengths and weaknesses of individual pupils.


Column 915

National assessment is well on the way to becoming a reality. Prototypes of the first national tests are under development and are being tried out in schools. The first national assessments of seven-year-olds in mathematics, English and science will be in 1991. Other foundation subjects and key stages will follow in subsequent years.

I have dwelt on that issue, because I believe that the national curriculum is a fundamental reform. When historians look back, this will be seen as a time of enormous change and improvement. That is why it is right to underline the importance of the national curriculum. We are devoting an enormous amount of resources, time and effort to ensuring that the national curriculum works. We are getting on with that constructively, with massive effort and with vigour, with the aim of raising standards and improving quality and relevance. Typically, the speech made by the hon. Member for Blackburn contained scarcely any recognition of that.

I want now to consider the Government's policies for extending real choice for parents, something that the Labour party does not really understand or believe in. We have abolished artificial limits on the places available in popular schools and parents are already benefiting this year, where places have been freed in secondary schools. We have required every local education authority to set up local arrangements for handling complaints which offer parents a readily accessible local route for pursuing complaints.

When schools have control of their own budgets--as so many shortly will-- those which attract more parents, and hence pupils, will also attract more funds. That is a key principle of the formula under the local management of schools for distributing budgets. We have introduced a new and flourishing grant-maintained school sector. There are now 20 grant-maintained schools in operation, and a further 12 have been approved to start later this year. The new sector is growing rapidly. Already, the number of grant-maintained schools is about the same as the number of schools in an average local education authority--and they started only in September.

I want to spend a moment or two on that aspect of our reforms, because I believe that the benefits of and the potential for grant-maintained schools have been much underrated. Typically, the hon. Member for Blackburn dismissed those schools as a gimmick ; that shows that he does not understand. Of course some local education authorities and their officials, in a narrow and blinkered way, oppose grant-maintained schools, because they are dedicated to uniformity and bureaucratic control. At heart, I suspect that some of them dislike giving the governors, teachers and parents real choice. I suspect that is what the hon. Member for Blackburn does not like about them. Some LEAs may be tempted to squeeze them out, but I hope that they will think again, as was shown in relation to CTCs. Grant- maintained schools are popular with parents and successful with teachers. So far, there have been ballots at 78 schools on whether to apply for grant -maintained status. Even though the first grant-maintained schools have had their greater independence for only a short time, there has been a marked increased in the number of applicants for places.


Column 916

Many schools have yet to complete their admissions procedures for entry in September 1990, but responses from parents greatly exceed the overall number of places available. For example, at Wilson's school in Wallington, there have been more than 470 applications for 120 places. That shows that we are extending parent power and parent choice and the results are clear.

The success of the first grant-maintained schools shows that parents have been quick to utilise their rights and choose the autonomy that grant- maintained autonomy brings. Moreover--this is very important--on my visits to grant-maintained schools I have seen the obvious dedication and enthusiasm of governors and staff for their new status. Many of them talk of the motivating effect that such status has had on them. Their hard work and commitment is proving a sure foundation for the new sector.

We are also widening parental choice by pressing ahead with our programme of city technology colleges. Three colleges are now open--only three years after the start of the programme. Yesterday I announced that Derby is to have a CTC, opening in 1991, and only last week I was able to confirm that the parents and children of Corby would soon be able to opt for this new and exciting choice of secondary education.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. MacGregor : No.

Mr. Straw : Oh, go on.

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Member for Blackburn admitted that his speech was too long because he had to give way ; I will bear that in mind.

Parents are voting with their feet for places in the CTCs because they want their children to benefit from the vigour and innovation which characterises CTCs. They will pioneer new approaches to classroom practice, timetables, even the working day. They will develop new approaches to the curriculum, and show the way on co-operation and collaboration between business and industry and education. The CTCs are doing this just where it is most needed--in our cities and towns where, for years, the outlook for young people has been bleakest.

I want to put the expenditure into context, because the hon. Member for Blackburn always touches on peripheral points. We expect local authorities to spend about £11 billion on the maintained sector of schools under current spending. We expect CTCs to spend £14 million. I want to see the benefits of CTCs as they develop spread more widely. That is one of the purposes of this innovative and creative idea. I want to build on the enthusiasm and commitment of business and industry which the CTC programme has already unlocked. That is why I heard with interest the proposal from the London borough of Wandsworth last week for a voluntary-aided CTC as a way of bringing what CTCs have to offer right into the maintained sector. I shall be looking carefully at all the issues involved.

Of course the proportion of spending on CTCs will rise as they expand. However, the proportion of spending on CTCs is still tiny in relation to spending on the total maintained sector. The whole of the education system and


Column 917

the inner-city area programme will receive benefits and a high rate of return from that comparatively modest investment.

The hon. Member for Blackburn referred to teacher shortages. He continues to show an unenviable capacity for misunderstanding--or perhaps he just prefers blatantly to misrepresent the facts. I am glad that, in reply to my repeated invitations, he has now accepted my offer of discussions with my Department's officials about the available statistics. I want a completely open debate about the statistics, and it would be at least an advance if we could have better informed speeches from the hon. Gentleman in future. I have said many times--I repeat it again today--that there are some serious problems of teacher supply. However, no purpose is served by misrepresenting them. The hon. Member for Blackburn is always highly selective in his choice of statistics and examples. Therefore, I want to state the overall position.

There is no evidence that teacher shortages are dramatically worse than in previous years or that we are facing a nationwide crisis. All three measures of teacher supply bear that out.

Mr. Flannery : Rubbish.

Mr. MacGregor : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy of hearing the three points.

First, vacancies are running at the same rate as when the Labour party left office in 1979. Secondly, teacher resignations and wastage have stayed within a narrow band for many years ; that is confirmed by research by Manchester university. Finally, recruitment to initial teacher training is running at levels unmatched in recent years. Teaching is clearly a popular profession, and rightly so. It offers a worthwhile career to young people. There has never been a better time to become a teacher ; that is reflected in the increasing number of people queueing up to do so.

I want now to refer to morale and teacher status. Those who point to the worst examples as being typical of what is happening in schools actually discourage people from entering the profession. That is one factor that has diminished teachers in the eyes of the public and that is a great shame for the vast majority of highly dedicated and professional teachers who do so much. We should now be positive to deal with problems of morale and stress.

As for teacher shortages, I have always recognised that there are clearly problems within the overall picture, and I have frequently highlighted two problems. First, teacher recruitment is suffering from exactly the same problems as some other occupations in London and other high-cost areas, where housing--and the environment in which some of the schools have to operate--are particular issues. Secondly, there are certain key subjects-- physics, chemistry, modern languages and maths, for example--for which schools may find it difficult to recruit. County education authorities such as mine are now addressing those problems.

But it is not just teaching that cannot get enough recruits in those subjects. They are the very same areas of expertise in which industry complains of recruitment problems. They are also, of course, the skills which are now in particularly high demand.

There has been, and is, a long-term problem here which we as a Government have been trying to address--the fact


Column 918

that, compared with the countries with which we most have to compete, not enough of our young people have been taking up these subjects. This is now exacerbated by the demographic downturn--the much lower number of school leavers up to 1996--on the one hand, and by the ever-increasing demand in a technological age and with the single European market looming for them, on the other. In the long term, one of the many benefits of the national curriculum is that it should greatly increase the enthusiasm among, and hence the numbers of, young people with such qualifications.

But that long-term solution will not provide an answer, so in the short term we are taking action which is targeted directly on these clearly identified issues. We have spent over £50 million since July 1986 on measures to address them, and these are continuing. They include bursaries for trainee teachers in physics, mathematics, technology and chemistry. They include the remit that I have given to the interim advisory committee for its recommendations for the coming year's salary settlement for teachers. I have specifically asked it to address these two areas of concern, with special reference to further use of incentive allowances. As the House knows, I have asked the interim advisory committee to report to me by the end of this month. With its report imminent, I clearly cannot say any more today about that matter.

Mr. Straw : When the Secretary of State sent his letter to Lord Chilver on 26 September, he said that inflation would fall further in the months ahead. In fact, it has risen. Is the Secretary of State going to take that into account in raising the cash limit.

Mr. MacGregor : I have already made it clear that the cash limit is a remit to the interim advisory committee. I do not want to say any more about what the committee might recommend to me. Clearly that is a matter for the committee, whose report I shall receive within the next few days-- certainly by the end of the month, the time by which we asked it to report.

Let me turn to the other short-term measures. In-service training for conversion and updating of shortage-subject teachers is one. We have also commissioned open learning materials for the in-service training of teachers in these subjects. Through our new education support grant, which I announced last week--£2 million has been given in the first year, and with more to follow as total expenditure for this particular area--we are supporting local education authorities through the education support grant, particularly in areas of recruitment difficulty, to develop programmes for recruiting former teachers. This is an area that I regard as a major priority, and one in which there is tremendous potential. I have given a clear indication that, if good progress is made, I should like to see rather more of the education support grant concentrated on this aspect when we come to look at the priorities for next year. Included also in the short-term programme is a publicity and advertising campaign, spearheaded by the teaching as a career unit. In addition, we are encouraging mature people to come into teaching, often after working in other careers. We have run a highly successful series of taster courses aimed at encouraging mature people to come into teaching, as we will be expanding this programme next year. The licensed teacher route will provide an important source of teachers in the future.


Column 919

This is a coherent and consistent programme of measures, and I will add to them as necessary. They are focused ; they are targeted ; above all, they are positive. They recognise that there are issues seriously to be addressed. That is in marked contrast to the contributions of the hon. Member for Blackburn. I re-read his speeches in the previous two debates on this question in the summer. Then, and now, he has failed to make a single constructive proposal. [Interruption.] I will come in a moment to the package that he raised at the end. When his criticisms are matched by complete absence of analysis and no positive ideas, then the House is entitled to dismiss them as empty rhetoric.

Let me turn now to resources. This Government have not merely set the policy agenda--acting where others have talked. We have also backed up our policies with resources. Look at the trend in spending per pupil. In 1979- 80, about £515 was being spent on each pupil in nursery, primary and secondary schools. By 1988-89, that figure had risen to about £1,365 per pupil.

Mr. Straw : What about inflation?

Mr. MacGregor : I will come to the point about inflation. That is a cash-terms increase of no less than 165 per cent. The real-terms increase, which is the one on which we ought to focus, is also impressive. In each and every year between 1979-80 and 1988-89, there has been a real-terms increase in spending per pupil. Overall, during that period, real-terms spending per pupil rose by 42 per cent.

Part of this increase is due to the improvements in staffing under this Government. As we all know, of course, teachers are much the biggest item of expenditure in school budgets, accounting for around half of all spending by local education authorities. As the House knows, there has been a steady improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio. In 1979-80, there was one teacher for every 19 pupils in primary and secondary schools ; by 1987-88 that ratio had improved to one teacher for every 17 pupils.

I shall come now to the point that the hon. Member for Blackburn has been raising. He talked about the under-fives. Of course it is not possible to achieve everything at once. The great fault of the Labour party has been its promises to everybody that it is going to achieve everything at once. Unfortunately, quite a number of people will not remember just how very badly it did last time in that respect.

Having said that, I want to consider what has been achieved in respect of participation rates in education among the under-fives. That has shown an upward trend--rising from 39 per cent. in 1979-80, to 45 per cent. in 1987- 88. This expansion has been funded by a substantial increase in spending on the under-fives--by about 45 per cent. in real terms over the same period.

Here I come to the point about Bligh primary school that the hon. Gentleman raised. I too have had this matter looked into this morning. I understand that a pre-school playgroup has been set up in the premises of Bligh primary school. Children are admitted to this group on payment of a fee. The children attending the group are not of statutory school age and are not on the school's roll. The group is


Column 920

funded, managed and taught separately from the main school, and the group is charged for the use that it makes of the primary school's accommodation.

Such arrangements are not uncommon or illegal. As there are always priorities for individual education authorities--they cannot achieve all that they would wish--we should commend the initiative of parents who undertake this kind of project.

Mr. Straw : This is a very important issue, so I am glad that the Secretary of State has given way. The truth is that the pre-school playgroup arrangement is a simple device or trick to circumvent the law against charging fees. The Secretary of State must agree to investigate what Kent county council has done. This is not a playgroup. Does the Secretary of State not understand that the teachers, who are teaching these children part of the national curriculum--not simply to play--are paid by the county council, out of funds provided by the parents?

Mr. MacGregor : I have had the matter looked into this morning, but I wish that the hon. Gentleman were not so disparaging of the pre-school playgroup movement. I think that it has achieved a great deal.

Let me turn to other resources. The education share of the Government's local authority grant settlement for next year amounts to very nearly £15 billion. Over 9 per cent. higher than for 1989-90, it is a huge sum by any standards. As regards capital resources for schools, next year will see a substantial increase for local authority capital and for grants to voluntary-aided and special agreement schools. The big increase in funds made available will allow local education authorities and governing bodies to continue their programme of improvement to schools. What we are making available for new improvement work alone--this, of course, is through the annual capital guidelines, and clearly it would be possible for local authorities to add considerably to it through capital receipts and in other ways--is a four-and-a-half times increase on the figure for last year.

Of course, there is never enough to satisfy everybody's aspirations. But I have to remind hon. Members that capital spending per pupil has increased by 10 per cent. in real terms over the last 10 years. I do not yet have the figures for actual spending--as distinct from forecasts--for 1988-89 or 1989-90, but I expect them to show further very substantial increases in real terms. I ask the House to contrast this with the record of the last Labour Government, who cut spending on local authority schools capital to around half its 1974 level in real terms.

All this clearly puts paid to any claims that this Government are not investing in our schools. Of course we would like to do more--all of us would like to do more--but we have to do what is possible within the resources available in the country as a whole. But we also believe that taxpayers and ratepayers have a right to expect that their money will be well spent. It is the Government's duty to press local education authorities, schools and colleges to achieve the best possible return for the enormous resources given to them. We have had from the hon. Member for Blackburn the same old Socialist agenda rooted in the failed solutions of the 1970s. Opposition Members talk about a commitment to excellence, but where we seek to build excellence, their party has a commitment to destruction.


Column 921

Opposition Members would tear up choice for parents. Their idea of excellence is a monolithic single-state system. When they talk about choice--they do not often do so--they do not mean choice for parents. When they talk about a new partnership, they mean a return to the old tyranny of monopoly local education authority provision. Theirs is a commitment to producers, not to consumers. Ours is a commitment to pupils and parents.

Opposition Members posture about a broad and balanced curriculum, but their own policy document will deny it. By limiting the national curriculum to the core subjects of English, maths and science, they will return schools to the unsatisfactory mish-mash in which many pupils followed an inadequate and unbalanced curriculum.

Our reforms of the school system are necessary for the new world of the 1990s. They are in schools now, building upon the solid foundation that the Government have already put in place. They are now rapidly taking shape, to the benefit of pupils, parents and teachers. The real failure would be to stand in the way of those great reforms. The Government have created them, are developing them and will bring them to fulfilment.

In comparison with that record of reform and achievement, from the utterances by the hon. Member for Blackburn, it is obvious that he and his party have no new thoughts. They peddle the failed old mixture that they peddled before. This afternoon, hon. Members heard plenty of spending commitments along the old lines. We will rapidly try to find out from the hon. Gentleman just what they amount to, and we will ask him to cost them so that we know how much substance there is in them.

The last Labour Government made promises and totally failed to achieve them. In fact, we saw a downturn in spending. In 1987, the Labour party made promises, but, when they were totted up, the electorate saw through them and realised that we could not afford them on that scale at that time. We will look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman said this afternoon and we will ask him many questions about exactly what his proposals amount to. That is why I urge the House to reject the motion and support the amendment.

5.21 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : I am amazed that the Secretary of State for Education and Science can give such a misguided impression of what is happening in schools throughout the country. In particular, I refer to teachers' impressions of their own worth, especially in view of the pay deal that is currently being examined. I would have liked the Secretary of State to have come clean and said, "Yes, I made a miscalculation when I wrote to Lord Chilver about the pay award for the coming financial year. Inflation is rising, and I recommend a further amount to deal with that." Hon. Members heard nothing like that. We heard only "Wait and see."

One would imagine that the Government have just come to power, that the problems that they talk about are new and have taken them by surprise, and that they have had nothing to do with them. Today's problems are a result of the wasted opportunities of the 1980s. During that decade, we experienced real underfunding by central Government. Education was neglected, and educators at


Next Section

  Home Page